Active travel to school – does distance and walkability matter?

Published 6th January 2020

A new SPHSU study has found that the distance from home and the walkability of the neighbourhood are both associated with whether children walk, scoot or cycle to school.

Active travel to school can provide children with health, academic and psychological benefits, and can promote social interaction and cognition. However, only around 50% of children in Scotland walk, scoot or cycle to school, and this proportion has slightly decreased in the last ten years.

The study involved over 700 10 and 11 year olds from across Scotland who took part in the SPACES study.

Distance and walkability (i.e. how friendly an area is to walking) were both associated with active travel to school.

Key findings

  • The median distance from home-to-school was 1.1 km.
  • Less than half of all children reported active travel for all journeys to/from school. Around two thirds reported active travel for most (more than 60%) school journeys.
  • With increasing distance, the proportions of children actively travelling to school for all or most journeys decreased; 78.6% of children who lived within 0.5km of their school travelled active for all journeys, reducing to 18% of those living 2km or more from school.
  • The odds of active travel for all journeys to school was significantly lower within the least walkable areas (57.8% in the most walkable areas compared with 38% in the least walkable areas).
  • Higher walkability increased the probability of active travel for most school journeys for all distances.

Laura Macdonald who led the study said:

“The findings of our study are particularly notable in that the relationship between walkability and active travel to school persisted irrespective of distance (and urban or rural location, household income, season and weather).

“Investment is needed in less walkable neighbourhoods to provide infrastructure to support opportunities for children’s active travel to school.

“Those involved in developing urban and transport policies should work towards improved street connectivity. Education authorities should collaborate with planning and public health professionals, and consider housing density and school catchment size when siting schools.”

The active commute to school: does distance from school or walkability of the home neighbourhood matter? A national cross-sectional study of children aged 10-11 years, Scotland, UK is published in BMJ Open.

First published: 6 January 2020

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