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Open Access Research

How is active transport associated with children's and adolescents' physical activity over time?

Alison Carver*, Anna F Timperio, Kylie D Hesketh, Nicola D Ridgers, Jo L Salmon and David A Crawford

Author Affiliations

Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8:126  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-126

Published: 14 November 2011

Abstract

Background

As few longitudinal studies have examined how active transport is associated with physical activity among children and adolescents over time, and how active transport tracks through childhood and adolescence, it is important to understand whether physically active children retain their activity patterns through adolescence. This study aimed to examine (a) tracking of active transport and of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) across childhood and adolescence in two age cohorts; and (b) associations between active transport and MVPA at three distinct time-points, over five years.

Methods

This longitudinal study of two cohorts aged 5-6 years (n = 134) and 10-12 years (n = 201) at baseline (T1), in Melbourne, Australia, gathered follow-up data at three (T2) and five years (T3). Walking/cycling to local destinations was survey-reported; while MVPA was recorded using accelerometers and mean time spent daily in MVPA on week days and on weekends was computed. Tracking of these behaviours was examined over five years using General Estimating Equations. Linear regression analyses were performed to examine associations between active transport and MVPA at each time-point.

Results

Active transport tracked moderately among children (boys, βs = 0.36; girls, βs = 0.51) but not among adolescents. Physical activity tracked moderately (βs value range: 0.33-0.55) for both cohorts. Active transport was not associated with children's MVPA at any time-point, but was associated with adolescent boys' MVPA on week days at T1 (B = 1.37 (95% CI: 0.15, 2.59)), at T2 (B = 1.27 (95% CI: 0.03, 2.51)) and at T3 (B = 0.74 (95% CI: 0.01, 1.47)), and with adolescent girls' MVPA on week days (B = 0.40 (95% CI: 0.04, 0.76)) and on weekends (B = 0.54 (95% CI: 0.16, 0.93)) at T3 only.

Conclusion

Active transport was associated only with boys' MVPA during early adolescence and with boys' and girls' MVPA during late adolescence. While active transport should be encouraged among all school-aged children, it may provide an important source of habitual physical activity for adolescent girls, in particular, among whom low and declining physical activity levels have been reported world-wide.

Keywords:
Tracking; longitudinal; youth