Report – "Making the Link from Transportation to Physical Activity and Obesity"

Active Transportation: Making the Link from Transportation to Physical Activity and Obesity

Walking or biking to school can help kids be more active overall

-Most studies of children and adolescents indicate that walking or bicycling to school is related to higher overall physical activity. However, the percentage of school-age children nationwide who commute to school by walking or bicycling decreased by 68 percent from 1969 to 2001.

-Parents’ perceptions of the transportation route between home and school were among the key factors determining whether children walk or bike to school.35, 36 Perceived safety from traffic and crime have been associated with higher rates of children walking and bicycling to school.

-A survey in Melbourne, Australia, found that children ages 5 to 6 and ages 10 to 12 whose parents believed they had to cross several roads to get to play areas were between 40 percent and 60 percent less likely than other children to walk or bicycle to school or parks at least three times per week.

-Promotional and educational programs helped increase rates of biking and walking to school.

-Parental safety concerns about traffic tend to be a common obstacle to biking and walking to school,43–45 but addressing safety behaviors and concerns through educational programs appears to be a promising strategy. For example, US Walk to School programs have been associated with higher walking rates.46 Additionally, the WalkSafe program, an educational injury-prevention program in Miami-Dade County, Fla., has led to children who are more likely to engage in safe pedestrian behaviors (e.g., stopping and looking when crossing the street) or avoid unsafe behaviors (e.g., mid-street crossing and darting out) than were those who did not participate, a change which was sustained over time.

-Efforts promoted by programs such as Safe Routes to School, including building sidewalks, crosswalks and traffic-control devices around schools, have been linked to both increases in the percentage of students who walked to school and reductions in the percentage of students being driven to school. Up to 39 percent of the land in large U.S. urban areas is within one-half mile of a public school, so physical improvements in neighborhoods surrounding schools provide safer walking environments not just to students, but also to residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Other Conclusions:

-A substantial body of research shows that certain aspects of the transportation infrastructure—public transit, greenways and trails, sidewalks and safe street crossings near schools, bicycle paths, traffic–calming devices, and sidewalks that connect schools and homes to destinations—are associated with more walking and bicycling, greater physical activity and lower obesity rates.

-Beyond improving local travel options, transportation infrastructure investments that support physical activity can result in increased recreational opportunities, improvements to individuals’ health and decreased health care costs.

-In combination with infrastructure investments, programs that raise awareness and complement pedestrian and bicycle facilities are promising options for supporting physical activity. Specifically, Safe Routes to School programs and the management of traffic in local neighborhoods and around schools have been shown to affect physical activity among children, adolescents and adults.

-Fast vehicle traffic is a significant barrier and danger to bicyclists and pedestrians. Measures to slow down traffic and to help pedestrians negotiate busy streets can be effective in increasing physical activity and improving safety.

-Addressing the decades–long decline in walking and bicycling for transportation requires changing the physical characteristics of our communities. Federal, state and local policies and funding that support the type of infrastructure investments and programs identified in this brief can help slow and perhaps even reverse this decline.

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