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Open Access Research

A cross-sectional study of demographic, environmental and parental barriers to active school travel among children in the United States

Palma Chillón1, Derek Hales23, Amber Vaughn3, Ziya Gizlice3, Andy Ni4 and Dianne S Ward23*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physical Education and Sport, School of Sport Sciences, University of Granada, Ctra. Alfacar, s/n, Granada 18011, Spain

2 Department of Nutrition in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA

3 Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1700 Martin L. King Jr. Blvd, CB 7426, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA

4 Department of Biostatistics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 122 1501 Baity Hill, CB 7420, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2014, 11:61  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-11-61

Published: 9 May 2014

Abstract

Background

Promoting daily routine physical activities, such as active travel to school, may have important health implications. Practitioners and policy makers must understand the variety of factors that influence whether or not a child uses active school travel. Several reviews have identified both inhibitors and promoters of active school travel, but few studies have combined these putative characteristics in one analysis. The purpose of this study is to examine associations between elementary school children’s active school travel and variables hypothesized as correlates (demographics, physical environment, perceived barriers and norms).

Methods

The current project uses the dataset from the National Evaluation of Walk to School (WTS) Project, which includes data from 4th and 5th grade children and their parents from 18 schools across the US. Measures included monthly child report of mode of school travel during the previous week (n = 10,809) and perceived barriers and social norms around active school travel by parents (n = 1,007) and children (n = 1,219). Generalized linear mixed models (GLMM) with log-link functions were used to assess bivariate and multivariate associations between hypothesized correlates and frequency of active school travel, assuming random school effect and controlling for the distance to school.

Results

The final model showed that the most relevant significant predictors of active school travel were parent’s perceived barriers, specifically child resistance (Estimate = −0.438, p < 0.0001) and safety and weather (Estimate = −0.0245, p < 0.001), as well as the school’s percentage of Hispanic students (Estimate = 0.0059, p < 0.001), after adjusting for distance and including time within school cluster as a random effect.

Conclusions

Parental concerns may be impacting children’s use of active school travel, and therefore, future interventions to promote active school travel should more actively engage parents and address these concerns. Programs like the Walk to School program, which are organized by the schools and can engage community resources such as public safety officials, could help overcome many of these perceived barriers to active transport.

Keywords:
Correlates; Active travel; Barriers; Children; Walk to school