Presentation at the 2009 Active Living Research Annual Conference
A considerable quantity of physical activity can be accumulated by active commuting to school which can help children and adolescents to achieve the physical activity recommendations. There are potential community environmental factors that may affect active commuting to school but these factors are not well understood in Latin populations or in developing countries. Thus, in order to identify factors that are related to active commuting, it is necessary to help promote physical activity among adolescents in these populations.
Evaluate the relationship between perceived community environment and active transport to school.
The present study was carried out with a representative sample of high school students of public schools in Curitiba-PR, south of Brazil (n=1745). For sample estimate purposes, there was a 3% sample error in prevalence, an estimate design effect of 1.5, an 8.4% non-response rate, and a confidence interval (CI) of 95%. For data collection a previously tested questionnaire was coordinately applied at classrooms. Two previously trained interviewers made the applications from July to November of 2006. The assessment tool was comprised of questions regarding personal data (sex, age, weight and height), active transport to school (walking or bicycling), environmental and psychosocial variables. To evaluate active transport the adolescents reported the number of days traveling to school walking or bicycling. The active commuting was considered adequate when adolescents performed it five days a week. The perceived environmental factors related to the neighborhood were assessed with the following 10 statements: 1) I can walk to places that I like; 2) Most streets have sidewalks; 3) My neighborhood has walking or bicycling routes; 4) Walking or playing is safe; 5) From my bedroom window it is easy to see people walking; 6) There is too much traffic that makes it difficult to walk; 7) There are many interesting things to see; 8) I always see people of my age playing or exercising; 9) There are many interesting things to see in my neighborhood while walking; and 10) Streets are well lighted at night. The original 4-point scales were grouped into “agree” and “disagree”. Descriptive statistics, sample description, and the Chi-square test were used for gender comparison. The association between active commuting to school and perceived environmental factors was made using crude and adjusted logistic regression in three levels. Age and social economic status (SES) were in the first level, social support from family and friends and self-efficacy were added in the second level, and environmental variables were included in the third level. All analyses were made with SPSS v.11.0 with a 5% significance level.
The sample was comprised predominantly of girls (59.3%) and 16 year old adolescents (33.3%). Most of the adolescents were classified as medium SES (62.5%). About a half of the adolescents (50.8%) reported active commuting to or from school 5 days per week. The proportion of males that reported active commuting was statistically significantly higher than females (male=52.9% versus female=46.6%). Despite a lower number of girls engaging in active commuting, girls (12.4%) were more likely to spend 30 min or more actively commuting than boys (10.1%) (X2=18.0; p<0.01). Girls that reported “I can walk to places I like’’ were 36% more likely to be active commuters compared with those that did not report this. For both genders, the perception of “too much traffic” was associated with active commuting to school. However, the association direction was different between genders. Girls were 75% (p<0.001) more likely to be active commuters when they perceived “too much traffic”, while boys were 35% less likely (p=0.05) to be active commuters when they perceived “too much traffic”.
This study highlights some perceived community environmental factors that can be related to active commuting to school. Cultural and social factors may mediate the association between environmental perception and active commuting since girls are affected in an opposite way than boys when traffic is higher. There is a need to further analyze these relationships using more objective and prospective methods.