BMC Public Health
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Physical activity plays a fundamental role in the health and well-being of children. Walking is the most common form of physical activity and the journey to and from school provides an opportunity for children to be active every day. This study examines how child and parent perceptions of barriers to active school travel influences children’s behaviour.
Participants were recruited from 48 elementary schools in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. The study sample includes 1296 children (ages 9–14 years) who live within walking distance of their school, defined as 1.6 km network distance. Chi-square analysis examined differences between child and parent perceptions of barriers to active school travel. Logistic regression models examined how parent and child perceptions of barriers influence active school travel behaviour, while controlling for key intrapersonal, interpersonal, and physical environment factors.
The results indicate that there are significant differences in how parents and children perceive barriers to active school travel. Model results find older children, children without siblings, households with no vehicles, and children who live closer to school are most likely to use active school travel. Parent perceptions of barriers are found to have a greater influence on children’s active school travel behaviour than children’s perceptions. Different perceptions of barriers influence active school travel to school compared to returning home from school.
Child and parent perceptions of barriers to active school travel differ and have different impacts on children’s travel behaviour. Understanding how child and parent perceptions of barriers differ can help policymakers and practitioners develop specialized interventions aimed at increasing children’s use of active school travel and children’s overall physical activity. Interventions used to promote active school travel should focus on safety, as well as perceptions of distance to break parental habits of routinely driving their children to school. Overall, this study highlights the importance of considering both child and parent perceptions to create a safe and accessible environment to allow for an increase in active school travel behaviour among elementary school children who live within walking distance of their school.