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Active commute to school has positive impact on children's physical activity levels

Children who walk and bike to school have a greater level of physical activity than those who use other forms of transportation, according to a paper published today in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Applied Research on Children by researchers at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital.

"We found that several factors contributed to how likely children were to walk or bike to school, such as parents' confidence level, the child's age, the school's distance from home and the family's level of acculturation," said Dr. Jason Mendoza, assistant professor of pediatrics-nutrition at BCM.

Measuring activity in typical week

Mendoza and colleagues measured the rates of physical activity among 149 students between the ages of 9 and 12 in low-income schools in the Houston Independent School District. They used accelerometers to measure the intensity and duration of physical activity during a typical school week and surveyed parents.

They found that those parents who had more confidence in their child walking to or from school had a greater chance of allowing their children to do so. Also, the older the children, the more likely they were to walk to school. Those who lived further away from the school were less likely to walk or bike to school.

Latino students less likely to walk to school

Researchers found Latino students in the study to be less likely to actively commute to school. They also found that within this group, those who were more adapted to U.S. culture were less likely to actively commute to school.

Researchers also observed how well children in the study followed pedestrian safety rules by observing how they crossed the street at major intersections. They found that, overall, few students exhibited safe pedestrian behaviors.

Mendoza says the study shows the need to implement intervention programs to increase the number of children who actively commute to school since it may help to improve their overall physical activity levels. However, these intervention programs should also incorporate pedestrian safety education to help students learn how to commute to school safely.

Others who took part in the study include Kathy Watson, Dr. Tom Baranowski, Dr. Theresa Nicklas, Doris Uscanga, Nga Nguyen and Dr. Marcus Hanfling of BCM.

Funding for this study came from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Cancer Institute and the Harris County Hospital District Foundation Children's Health Fund.

The Journal of Applied Research on Children is an open-access and peer-reviewed online journal that is uniquely focused on the needs of children. Its research is linked to practical, evidenced-based policy solutions for children's issues to inform legislative and policy decisions, as well as influence existing and innovative practice models.