Presentation at the 2009 Active Living Research Annual Conference
Numerous studies have examined the role of environmental features, including residential density and proximity and access to destinations, as correlates of walking for utilitarian purposes. However, few studies have examined whether the role of children and the ages of children in a household affect walking frequency to different types of destinations.
Objectives: The objectives for this research are threefold: 1) to determine whether differences in walking trips exist between households with children and households without children; 2) to understand what social and environmental factors influence walking behaviors for households with children; and 3) to examine whether the age of the children in the household influences walking trips.
Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), environmental features such as canopy coverage and access to destinations within a 0.5 mile radius were measured within the city of Seattle and the outlying suburban neighborhoods. Walking trip frequency, preferences for walking environments and demographic information, including number and ages of children in the household eighteen years of age or younger, were measured through a postal survey (21% response rate, 618 household respondents). Bivariate analyses, analysis of variance and multiple linear regression (hierarchical regression) were used to test the association between environmental and demographic factors, walking preferences and behaviors. In addition, the postal survey collected qualitative data on why participants preferred certain walking environments.
40% of survey respondents indicated that they had at least one child eighteen years or younger living in the household (n=250). The walking frequency of these households to parks, schools and coffee shops were significantly higher than for non-children households. However, there were no differences found for preferences for walking environments between households with and without children. Qualitative reasons for preferences show that households with children preferred highly vegetated environments that are well maintained and have large sidewalk buffers slightly more than non-child households.
Within the study population of households with children, environmental factors were associated with walking frequency to parks, schools and coffee shops. Proximity of the destination, living within the city limits and subjective perception of high neighborhood vegetation were positively related to walking frequency to these destinations for households with children. Demographic factors, such as car ownership and income, and attitudes regarding neighborhood selection, also influenced walking frequency for these households.
Age of children within the household had a slight effect on walking frequency. Those households with children 6-10 years old walked more frequently to schools and coffee shops, while households with children younger than 5 years old walked most frequently to parks. Households with mixed ages of children walked the most frequently to parks and schools.
Although this study does not directly examine children’s walking behavior, this research suggests that households with children walk more frequently to some destinations than non-child households. The majority of these destinations (e.g. parks and schools) are child friendly destinations and these walking trips could be interpreted as walking trips in which the child or children in the household were primarily involved. This research suggests that walking trip frequency in households with children is influenced by both built environment and socio-demographic factors. Future research should examine the relationship between the walking behaviors of both parents and children in a household and the built environment.
This research was conducted in Seattle, Washington at the University of Washington. Financial support for this project was made possible through a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT) grant: Grant # 0114351, Integrative Graduate Education in Urban Ecology, University of Washington.