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An ecological examination of factors related to active school travel in young children

For this study, researchers used Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) data to examine ecological factors related to active school travel (AST), defined as walking or wheeling to school, in young children. Because of greater physical activity and less air and noise pollution from motor vehicles, AST provides significant health and environmental benefits. In recent decades, Aotearoa has seen a considerable decrease in ATS, making our rates among the lowest in the world.

AST levels in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) have declined substantially over recent decades to the point where they are amongst the lowest worldwide.

The research found the importance of living close to schools had a significant and positive relationship with AST. For the examination of change between 6 and 8 years, AST was low at both time points (37% at 6 years, 34% at 8 years). Overall, 12% moved from active to passive modes and 9% moved from passive to active modes.

Parents report the primary barriers to their child’s AST as the built environment (e.g., unsafe or no infrastructure for AST), unsafe traffic environments, distance to school, concerns about crime-related safety, and lack of social support. School representative concerns centre on safety on the school journey, with safe transport environments, and strong community partnerships (e.g., for bike skills training) being key to supporting AST. Recommendations made by the researchers align with current policy initiatives, in particular Waka Kotahi Improving Transport Choices package and Innovating Streets programme.

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