Background: Environmental perceptions appear to play a role in determining behaviour in children, although their influence on active commuting remains unclear. This study examines whether attitudes, social support and environmental perceptions are associated with active commuting behaviour in school children and whether these associations are moderated by the distance to school.
Methods: Data were collected as part of the SPEEDY study (Sport, Physical activity and Eating behaviour: Environmental Determinants in Young people), a cross-sectional study of 2064 children from schools in Norfolk, England. Data regarding the usual mode of travel to school, attitudes towards and social support for active commuting, perceptions of the neighbourhood and route to school were assessed using questionnaires completed by 2012 children and their parents. Distance to school was estimated using a Geographic Information System and this was used to compare associations between personal and environmental factors and active travel, across different distance categories.
Results: 40% of children reported usually walking to school, with 9% cycling and the remainder using motorised travel. Parental attitudes and safety concerns, the presence of social support from parents and friends, and parent reported neighbourhood walkability were all found to be predictors of active commuting, with children receiving peer and family support and living in supportive environments being more likely to walk or cycle. There was some evidence of a moderating effect of distance whereby attitudes were more important for short distances and safety concerns long.
Conclusion: Both attitudinal and environmental perceptions are associated with children’s active commuting behaviours. Given the difficulty in modifying attitudes directly, the effect on them of interventions to provide more supportive environments should be evaluated.
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