Presentation at the 2007 Active Living Research Annual Conference
Walking to school has been identified as a potentially important source of everyday physical activity in children’s lives and several government agencies have begun supporting programs to encourage children to walk to school (e.g. Safe Routes to School and CDC’s KidsWalk programs). However, relatively little research has identified the role of individual, family, and neighborhood characteristics in the decision to use active travel modes. A clear understanding of the influences on children and adolescents’ travel behavior is necessary to craft policies which will be effective at increasing walking and biking among low-income and minority youth.
This research describes how much low-income and minority children in the United States currently use active travel modes to reach school and identifies the factors associated with active travel.
This correlational study uses data from the 2001 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) to profile current travel patterns among low-income and minority youth in the United States. The NHTS is a nationally representative telephone survey of 66,000 households and contains data on 2,100 children and adolescents who are non-white or live in households with incomes less than $40,000. Multilevel logit models of the decision to walk or bike to school, combined with the calculation of marginal effects, identify the individual, family, and neighborhood characteristics with the strongest influence on behavior.
The data show that low-income and minority groups, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, use active travel modes to get to school at much higher rates than whites or higher income students. However, much of the difference in travel patterns stems from lower access to cars and shorter distances between home and school for low-income and minority groups. The multilevel logit model shows that the most important determinant of mode choice is the distance between home and school. In addition, much of the variation in outcomes is associated with individual and family characteristics, rather than the neighborhood.
The importance of trip distance suggests policies on school siting are critical in maintaining and increasing rates of active school travel among low-income and minority youth. To maintain current levels of walking and biking, school siting policies should encourage rehabilitation of existing schools rather than construction of new schools on the fringes of communities. To increase current rates, new schools should be planned within existing neighborhoods.