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Open Access Research

The freedom to explore: examining the influence of independent mobility on weekday, weekend and after-school physical activity behaviour in children living in urban and inner-suburban neighbourhoods of varying socioeconomic status

Michelle R Stone1*, Guy EJ Faulkner2, Raktim Mitra3 and Ron N Buliung4

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health and Human Performance, Faculty of Health Professions, Dalhousie University, 6230 South Street, PO Box 15000 Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H4R2, Canada

2 Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

3 School of Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

4 Department of Geography, University of Toronto Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2014, 11:5  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-11-5

Published: 22 January 2014

Abstract

Background

Children’s independent mobility (CIM) is critical to healthy development in childhood. The physical layout and social characteristics of neighbourhoods can impact opportunities for CIM. While global evidence is mounting on CIM, to the authors’ knowledge, Canadian data on CIM and related health outcomes (i.e., physical activity (PA) behaviour) are missing. The purpose of this study was to examine if CIM is related to multiple characteristics of accelerometry-measured PA behaviour (total PA, light PA, moderate-to-vigorous PA, time spent sedentary) and whether associations between CIM and PA behaviour systematically vary by place of residence, stratifying by gender and type of day/period (weekdays, after-school, weekend).

Methods

Participants were recruited through Project BEAT (Built Environment and Active Transport; http://www.beat.utoronto.ca webcite). Children (n = 856) were stratified into four neighbourhood classifications based on the period of neighbourhood development (urban built environment (BE) (old BE) versus inner-suburban BE (new BE)) and socioeconomic status (SES; low SES and high SES). Physical activity was measured via accelerometry (ActiGraph GT1M). CIM was assessed via parental report and two categories were created (low CIM, n = 332; high CIM, n = 524). A series of two-factor ANOVAs were used to determine gender-specific differences in PA for weekdays, weekend days and the after-school period, according to level of CIM, across four neighbourhood classifications.

Results

Children who were granted at least some independent mobility (high CIM) had more positive PA profiles across the school week, during the after-school period, and over the weekend; they were also less sedentary. The influence of CIM on PA behaviour was particularly salient during the after-school period. Associations of CIM with PA varied by gender, and also by neighbourhood classification. CIM seemed to matter more in urban neighbourhoods for boys and suburban neighbourhoods for girls.

Conclusion

Our findings highlight the importance of independent mobility to multiple characteristics of children’s PA behaviour across the week. Furthermore, they emphasize that independent mobility-activity relationships need to be considered by gender and the type of neighbourhood independent mobility is offered in. Future work will focus on developing a predictive model of CIM that could be used to inform decision-making around alleviating barriers to CIM.

Keywords:
Children’s independent mobility; Physical activity; Accelerometer; ActiGraph; Built environment; Child; Health