Walking or cycling to school may be an effective and efficient way to integrate physical activity into the daily routine of children, according to researchers at Kansas State University.
An Australian study suggests that poor urban design and safety fears are turning off kids from walking and cycling to school, and, thereby, increasing obesity rates.
Led by Pam Wittman, a K-State senior in kinesiology, the project included two surveys conducted in 2008 that looked at demographics, psychosocial factors and environmental characteristics related to active commuting.
A survey of more than 800 individuals at K-State was conducted, followed by another survey of 400 Manhattan area residents.
The results of the study have paved the way for future policy discussions, and for tailoring public health messages.
In the campus study, the researchers found that students were most likely to actively commute, then faculty members, and then staff.
Women and men were equally interested in walking or biking, while older individuals were less likely to actively commute than younger individuals.
Depending on distance to campus, those living within a 20-minute walk actively commuted four times a week, and those within a 20-minute bike ride, biked to campus five times per week.
The researchers revealed that many survey participants said that they were willing to actively commute if they perceived they could travel to their destination in about 20 minutes, or a distance of approximately one mile.
They found a number of things that facilitated people's choices to actively commute.
"We learned from the community survey results that people who hold ecologically-friendly attitudes are more likely to actively commute and less likely to drive to work," said a co-author of the study.
The surveys underlined some of the hindrances to active commuting, which included a perceived lack of bike racks, showers or a place to freshen up before work or teaching, and an "office culture" where driving to work is the norm and there is limited support for walking or biking.
The respondents also listed time constraints, weather, a need to go elsewhere before or after work or school; parking availability; parking costs; concerns about the environment, such as pollution; cost of gasoline; safety from traffic and crime; and the terrain they have to traverse.
The researchers said if city and county engineers took into consideration bike lanes and sidewalks during roads renovation, it could benefit public health.
They also said that mixed land use, where residential areas, commercial opportunities, parks, and workplaces were closed and connected, provided more chances for people to engage in physical activity for leisure or for purposeful transportation.
"Physical activity is a major public health concern. We need to take a new approach to integrating it back into our daily routines by designing communities that help meet these needs. We hope our study findings can help with that," said an author of the study.