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Using an agent-based model to simulate children’s active travel to school

Yong Yang* and Ana V Diez-Roux

Author Affiliations

Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan, 1415 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:67  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-67

Published: 26 May 2013



Despite the multiple advantages of active travel to school, only a small percentage of US children and adolescents walk or bicycle to school. Intervention studies are in a relatively early stage and evidence of their effectiveness over long periods is limited. The purpose of this study was to illustrate the utility of agent-based models in exploring how various policies may influence children’s active travel to school.


An agent-based model was developed to simulate children’s school travel behavior within a hypothetical city. The model was used to explore the plausible implications of policies targeting two established barriers to active school travel: long distance to school and traffic safety. The percent of children who walk to school was compared for various scenarios.


To maximize the percent of children who walk to school the school locations should be evenly distributed over space and children should be assigned to the closest school. In the case of interventions to improve traffic safety, targeting a smaller area around the school with greater intensity may be more effective than targeting a larger area with less intensity.


Despite the challenges they present, agent based models are a useful complement to other analytical strategies in studying the plausible impact of various policies on active travel to school.