Presentation at the 2008 Active Living Research Annual Conference
Time spent in active commuting can contribute significantly to youth physical activity levels. There are, however, demographic disparities in barriers and access to safe routes to local destinations. Obesity, diabetes and activity levels in children also vary by demographic groups, age and gender. Studies have mostly focused on active commuting to school and ignored active commuting to other local destinations such as parks and shops.
Based on an ecological model of behavior, the present study investigated demographic differences in environmental and psychosocial barriers to active commuting to three local destinations in youth aged 5-18 years.
Parents of 287 children from neighborhoods varying in income and walkability in 3 cities in the US completed the survey. Over a third of the sample was non-white, had no college degree, or earned less than $50,000 a year. The survey included new measures of barriers to active commuting to a local park, shop, or school. Factor analyses for barriers indicated three subscales that applied across all three destinations. Subscales demonstrated good test-retest and inter-item reliability. The safety factor included crime, safe bike storage, and stray dogs. The environment factor included hills, sidewalks, traffic, lighting, and protected street crossings. The psychosocial factor included getting sweaty, too much to carry, planning efforts, ease of driving, and peer behavior. If a park or shop was within a 15 minute walk parents reported whether their child walked or biked to that destination at least once a week. For schools the distance was extended to a 30 minute walk. Only those who lived within these distances from the destination were analyzed. Chi square tests were used to assess demographic differences in barriers and active commuting. Barrier scales were dichotomized at the mean. Logistic regression analyses were employed to test for interactions between demographic characteristics and barriers in predicting active commuting, adjusting for race/ethnicity and education.
Parents reported that 86% of children lived within 15 minutes walk of a park, 80% within 15 minutes walk of shops and 55% within 30 minutes of their child’s school. Among these children, 34% usually walked/cycled to the park, 37% to shops, and 58% to school. Adolescents 12-18 were more likely (p<.001) to walk/bike to the shops than 5-11 year olds. Parents with a college degree reported their child was more likely (p<.05) to walk/bike to shops. Those with an income over $50,000 were less likely to report their child walked/biked to the park (p<.05).
Parents who were white, with a college degree, or had a household income over $50,000 were less likely (p<.05) to report high safety barriers to walking or biking to shops, school or the local park. Parents of adolescents (vs younger children) were more likely to report high psychosocial barriers to their child’s active commuting to school, and lower environmental barriers to walking or biking to the shops or park. Interactions between demographics and active commuting barriers were found for predicting active commuting behavior. Adolescents had a stronger relation between environmental barriers and walking to the park than did children (p<.001). Adolescents also had a strong relation between psychosocial barriers and active commuting to school (p<.001). Walking to the park was more strongly related to environmental barriers in low income families compared to higher income (p<.001). Walking to the shops was more strongly related to safety barriers (p<.001) in white families than in families of color. The relation of walking to school to environmental barriers was stronger (p<.001) in high income families than in low income families.
Present findings document important racial/ethnic and SES disparities in barriers to active commuting. Evidence of disparities was consistent, with white, high-income and high-education parents reporting lower scores on all three barriers scales. These disparities were important, because there was some evidence that each of three barriers scales was related to youth active commuting. Environmental variables in particular (sidewalk, traffic, street crossings) were related to active commuting to school, park, and shops, so policies to improve all these factors should be high priority. Adolescents’ active commuting to school and park was more strongly related to barriers than was younger children’s commuting behavior, so interventions may have greater effect on adolescents who tend to be reducing their activities levels. Low income youth seemed to be more sensitive to barriers to active commuting to parks, while white youth were more sensitive to barriers to walking to shops, and high income youth were more sensitive to barriers to walking to school. Interventions may therefore promote different active transport destinations for different population groups.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation via Active Living Research