This study takes advantage of a large, existing database of physical activity measurements collected from sixth and seventh graders in ten Massachusetts schools. The purpose is to see if their physical environment at school or in the neighborhood affects the children’s activity levels. The data includes active and sedentary periods by time of day for 251 students in ten neighborhoods, measured by accelerometer and diaries. The University of North Carolina researchers are evaluating neighborhood features, such as density, mix of uses, and completeness of the sidewalk network, using GIS data, aerial photographic maps, and site visits. The same is being done for the children’s schools, which includes collection of data about traits such as the size of the campus and the presence of stairs. Among the questions Cradock’s team will be asking is if the pedestrian environment in the neighborhood is related to physical activity for students on weekends, and if “active-school environments” are associated with more activity during the school day. The database also includes information about weather conditions; the researchers will see if the neighborhood environment influences the choices of children to walk or bike in varying weather conditions.
Schools play a critical role in helping children lead active, healthy lives. Recess, PE classes, after-school programs, and walking or biking to and from school all have the potential to get kids moving. Research shows that kids who move more aren’t just healthier, they also tend to do better academically, behave better in class and miss fewer days of school. Unfortunately, many schools do not offer enough opportunities for children to be active. Policy-makers, teachers and parents can use research on the benefits of school physical activity to advocate for programs and policies that help children be active before, during and after school.
Download our Schools-related Resources Sheet for the best evidence available about a variety of school-based strategies for promoting physical activity.
You can also view and download our The Role of Schools in Promoting Physical Activity infographic.
The planning and siting of new schools can promote local community development and active living outcomes. However, formal coordination between public school district officials and urban planners to ensure that schools are integrated into their adjacent communities is complicated by inadequate joint planning processes. The purpose of this dissertation was to understand the factors that affect school siting in California urban areas, and how school siting plays a part in neighborhood community development and active living. A mixed-method research approach utilized literature review, a statewide survey of school district facility planners, and in-depth case studies of school facility planning and siting to better understand the school siting process and its affects on active living outcomes.Learn more about Jeffrey Vincent, Ph.D., M.C.P. and his ALR project by reading his RWJF Grantee Profile.
Children’s travel lies at the heart of the policy debates on public health, urban design, and transportation planning. This study will describe and analyze the general patterns of children’s travel. The researcher will investigate the influences of parent, child, household characteristics, and the built environment on non-motorized travel to school. Data from the National Household Travel Survey supplemented with census information will provide examples of behavior across a range of built environments, household types, and socioeconomic conditions. The goal of this research is to identify the factors that influence the decision to use non-motorized transport to get to school. The results will be useful in developing policies around school transportation, particularly ones that encourage walking and biking, and in understanding how the presence of children constrains adult travel.
Walking or bicycling to school provides an opportunity for children to increase their daily physical activity levels. However, a child’s opportunity to walk or bicycle to school can be constrained or enhanced by the location of the school and the built environment of the surrounding neighborhood. In this project, researchers at the University of Florida will be studying how requirements for coordination between local governments on school locations affect improvements in access to school by bicycling and walking and also analyze the potential for walking based on a number of built environment variables. A total of ten schools will be selected from four school districts in Florida that have varying degrees of school siting practices. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and surveys, each school and surrounding neighborhood will be analyzed for its ability to produce walking and bicycling trips to school. Results of the case studies will be used to help inform how coordinating school siting policies can affect children walking and bicycling to school.
School physical education (PE) programs can play a critical role in helping students increase their physical activity levels. Several federal and state policies have therefore been enacted in attempts to increase the quality and quantity of PE in schools. However, such legislation has frequently proven ineffective due to difficulty with policy development and implementation in schools. In order to better understand this policy process, researchers at the University of Memphis will construct eight case studies that will examine: how PE policies are developed and enacted from State level down; how such policies affect and are affected by resource allocations; and how effective PE policy implementation strategies have been. A total of eight schools that exhibit variation in PE policies will be picked from two of the states hardest hit by childhood obesity, Mississippi and Tennessee. Data will be collected from key stakeholder interviews and direct observation of student physical activity levels within the eight schools.
In 2005, the Texas State Legislature passed Senate Bill 42 (SB 42), building on the 30 minutes of daily physical education requirement for elementary school students to include middle school students. Bill implementation occured in the 2006-2007 school year and also mandate that middle schools implement an approved coordinated school health program. The purpose of this study was to determine the impact of SB 42 on school physical education, child physical activity, and child overweight in 129 public middle schools. The researchers used school staff questionnaires, direct observation of physical education, and student self-reported levels of physical activity to gauge the impacts of SB 42. Particular attention was paid to schools in regions heavily populated with low-income and Hispanic families. The project complimented another Active Living Research project The Impact of Senate Bill 19 on Elementary School Children’s Level of Physical Activity by Principal Investigator Dr. Steven Kelder.
The social and built environment of many minority children living in impoverished neighborhoods frequently fails to support their healthy development. Designing safe outdoor play environments that support children’s physical activity provides a potential mechanism for promoting their healthy development. However, virtually no research exists that examines how children themselves think about and use their neighborhood for physical activity. The goal of this project was to study how neighborhood physical and social processes affect the impact of redeveloped inner-city school playgrounds, known as Learning Landscapes, on children’s physical activity from the perspective of children and their caretakers. This study enriched another Active Living Research project, If They Build It, Will They Come? An Evaluation of the Effects of the Redevelopment of Inner-City School Grounds on the Physical Activity of Children, Principal Investigator Lois Brink. Information about the physical activity opportunities in the Learning Landscapes playgrounds and children’s neighborhoods was collected from students from 3 diverse schools from the main study. Children’s physical activity was assessed using SOPLAY, a direct observation method, aerial photography, children travel behavior diaries, and student focus groups.
This project provided supplemental funds for a study originally funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) focused on obesity and the built environment. This Obesity and the Built Environment (OBE) supplemental grant added to a larger previously funded OBE grant that examined the feasibility of obtaining adolescent self-defined neighborhood boundaries via a mapping exercise, test the practicability of having adolescents complete travel diaries to document their travel and utilization behavior, and elicit factors that are important to adolescents in determining utilization, route preference and neighborhood boundaries. This supplement complemented the OBE funded study by adding objective data from a built environment assessment tool (the Physical Activity Resource Assessment (PARA) instrument) and a nutrition environment assessment tool (the Nutrition Environment Measurement Study (NEMS)) to answer the question, “how does quality (objectively measured) and availability of specific amenities or food variety affect physical activity and eating behavior in adolescents?”