The Influence of the Built Environment on Travel Behaviors

Overview:

The built environment—which includes buildings, streets, parks, and other man-made physical surroundings—affects a person’s choices regarding opportunities for physical activity and the safety of engaging in physical activity.

The decision to walk or bicycle for short trips often depends on time, purpose, or environmental factors. Research shows that features of the built environment such as sidewalks, street lights, traffic, hills, and overall walkability are related to travel behaviors. This section highlights research suggesting that the make-up of streets and the built environment can play a role in physical activity promotion and active travel behaviors, especially among children to and from school.

Research Highlights:

  • Analysis reveals that the distance between home and school is the most important factor in determining whether a child used active transport to get to school (Larsen, et al., 2009).
  • Only 14% of students aged 5-14 years usually walk to school (Beck, et al., 2008).
  • The most frequently reported barrier to walking to school is distance (Beck, et al., 2008).
  • A 5% increase in neighborhood walkability is associated with:Results show that children who pass completed Safe Routes to School projects are more likely to show increases in walking or bicycle travel than are children who do not pass by projects (15% vs 4%), supporting the effectiveness of Safe Routes to School construction projects in increasing walking or bicycling to school for children who pass these projects on their way to school (Boarnet, et al., 2005).
    • 32.1% more minutes devoted to physically active travel
    • 6.5% fewer vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita (Frank, et al., 2006)

See 2011 Archived Articles
See 2010 Archived Articles
See 2009 Archived Articles
See 2008 and Earlier Archived Articles

Academic Research Articles and Findings:

Impact of the Safe Routes to School Program on Walking and Bicycling (2014)

  • Problem, research strategy, and findings: Increasing walking and bicycling to school has been a national policy goal since Congress created the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. While previous research has suggested positive program impacts, there have been no large-scale studies with strong research designs. Here we study 801 schools in the District of Columbia, Florida, Oregon, and Texas to assess how the proportion of students walking and bicycling to school changed after the introduction of SRTS programs. By including schools with and without SRTS programs and analyzing data collected over time (2007–2012), we are able to distinguish SRTS impacts from secular trends.
  • We find increases in walking and bicycling after schools implemented SRTS programs. Engineering improvements are associated with an 18% relative increase in walking and bicycling, and the effects of education and encouragement programs are cumulative. Over the course of five years, these education and encouragement programs could lead to a 25% relative increase in walking and bicycling.
  • Takeaway for practice: Planners should work to prioritize capital improvements that improve non-motorized access to school and revise comprehensive plans and subdivision regulations to ensure that new development supports access to school.

Noreen C. McDonald RLS, Chanam Leec, Tori Rhoulac Smith, Xuemei Zhuc & Yizhao Yange. Impact of the Safe Routes to School Program on Walking and Bicycling. Journal of the American Planning Association 2014;Sept.

Independent mobility on the journey to school: A joint cross-sectional and prospective exploration of social and physical environmental influences (2014)

  • Despite related physical/mental health benefits, children's independent mobility for school travel (i.e. walking/cycling without adult accompaniment) has declined in recent decades.
  • The study’s purpose was to examine cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between social/physical environmental variables and independent mobility on the school journey.
  • Participants were 1121 9–10 year-olds residing within 1600 m of their school in urban/rural areas of Norfolk, UK in 2007 (T1). At one year (T2) 491 children were followed-up. At T1, parents survey-reported perceptions of the social/physical environment and rules regarding their child's physical activity. Characteristics of the neighborhood, route to school and school environment were measured using a Geographical Information System and school audits. At both time-points children survey-reported their usual travel mode and whether accompanied. Regression analyses were conducted in 2013.
  • Around half walked/cycled to school without adult accompaniment (T1, 43%; T2, 53%). Parents often allowing their child to play outside anywhere within the neighborhood (adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 3.14 (95% CI 1.24–7.96)) and household car access (AOR 0.27 (95% CI 0.08–0.94)) were associated longitudinally with boys walking/cycling independently to school. Land use mix (AOR 1.38 (95% CI 1.06–1.79)), proportion of main roads in the neighborhood (AOR 0.67 (95% CI 0.47–0.94)) and parental encouragement for walking/cycling (AOR 0.40 (95% CI 0.20–0.80)) were associated longitudinally with girls walking/cycling independently to school.
  • Interventions should develop parents' skills to teach their children to be independently mobile and to build confidence regarding venturing out without parental accompaniment. Urban planners should consider designing neighborhoods in which residences, business/retail outlets and sports facilities are co-located to promote active transport.

Alison Carvera, Jenna R. Panterb, Andrew P. Jonesd, Esther M.F. van Sluijsb, . (2014). Independent mobility on the journey to school: A joint cross-sectional and prospective exploration of social and physical environmental influences. Journal of Transport & Health, 27 Jan 2014, online

“Factors influencing mode of transport in older adolescents: a qualitative study” (2013)

  • Since a decline in activity levels occurs in adolescence, active transport could be important to increase daily physical activity in older adolescents (17–18 years). To promote active transport, it is necessary to be aware of the barriers and facilitators of this type of transport, but also of other transport modes. This study sought to uncover the factors influencing the choice of transport mode for short distance travel to various destinations in older adolescents using focus groups.
  • Thirty-two focus group volunteers (mean age of 17 ± 1.2 years) were recruited from the two final years of the secondary school in Antwerp (Belgium). Five focus groups were conducted (five to eight participants/group). Content analysis was performed using NVivo 9 software (QSR International). Grounded theory was used to derive categories and subcategories.
  • Data were categorized in three main themes with several subcategories: personal factors (high autonomy, low costs and health), social factors (good social support) and physical environmental factors (short travel time, good access to transport modes and to facilities, good weather, an adapted built environment, perceived safety and ecology).
  • For older adolescents, the interplay between short travel time, high autonomy, good social support, low costs, good access to transport modes and facilities, and good weather was important for choosing active transport over other transport forms for travelling short distances to various destinations. Other well-known factors such as safety, ecology and health seemed not to have a big influence on their transport mode choice.

Dorien Simons1, 2, 3*, Peter Clarys1, Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij2, Bas de Geus4, Corneel Vandelanotte5 and Benedicte Deforche1,2. (2013). Factors influencing mode of transport in older adolescents: a qualitative study. BMC Public Health, 13, 323. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-323

“Cobenefits of Replacing Car Trips with Alternative Transportation: A Review of Evidence and Methodological Issues” (2013)

  • It has been reported that motor vehicle emissions contribute nearly a quarter of world energy-related greenhouse gases and cause non-negligible air pollution primarily in urban areas.
  • Reducing car use and increasing ecofriendly alternative transport, such as public and active transport, are efficient approaches to mitigate harmful environmental impacts caused by a large amount of vehicle use. Besides the environmental benefits of promoting alternative transport, it can also induce other health and economic benefits.
  • At present, a number of studies have been conducted to evaluate co-benefits from greenhouse gas mitigation policies. However, relatively few have focused specifically on the transport sector. A comprehensive understanding of the multiple benefits of alternative transport could assist with policy making in the areas of transport, health, and environment. However, there is no straightforward method which could estimate co-benefits effect at one time.
  • In this paper, the links between vehicle emissions and air quality, as well as the health and economic benefits from alternative transport use, are considered, and methodological issues relating to the modelling of these co-benefits are discussed.

Ting Xia, Ying Zhang, Shona Crabb, and Pushan Shah, . (2013). “Cobenefits of Replacing Car Trips with Alternative Transportation: A Review of Evidence and Methodological Issues,”. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2013(Article ID 797312), Article ID 797312. doi: 10.1155/2013/797312

“Factors influencing mode of transport in older adolescents: a qualitative study” (2013)

  • Since a decline in activity levels occurs in adolescence, active transport could be important to increase daily physical activity in older adolescents (17–18 years). To promote active transport, it is necessary to be aware of the barriers and facilitators of this type of transport, but also of other transport modes. This study sought to uncover the factors influencing the choice of transport mode for short distance travel to various destinations in older adolescents using focus groups.
  • Thirty-two focus group volunteers (mean age of 17 ± 1.2 years) were recruited from the two final years of the secondary school in Antwerp (Belgium). Five focus groups were conducted (five to eight participants/group). Content analysis was performed using NVivo 9 software (QSR International). Grounded theory was used to derive categories and subcategories.
  • Data were categorized in three main themes with several subcategories: personal factors (high autonomy, low costs and health), social factors (good social support) and physical environmental factors (short travel time, good access to transport modes and to facilities, good weather, an adapted built environment, perceived safety and ecology).
  • For older adolescents, the interplay between short travel time, high autonomy, good social support, low costs, good access to transport modes and facilities, and good weather was important for choosing active transport over other transport forms for travelling short distances to various destinations. Other well-known factors such as safety, ecology and health seemed not to have a big influence on their transport mode choice.

Dorien Simons1, 2, 3*, Peter Clarys1, Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij2, Bas de Geus4, Corneel Vandelanotte5 and Benedicte Deforche1,2. (2013). Factors influencing mode of transport in older adolescents: a qualitative study. BMC Public Health, 13, 323. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-323

Coming to consensus on policy to create supportive built environments and community design

  • In April 2011, a conference with invited experts from research, policy and practice was held to build consensus around policy levers to address environmental determinants of obesity.
  • Experts identified the gap between existing policy tools and what can promote health through community design as a major policy opportunity.
  • This commentary represents a consensus of next actions towards creating built environments that support healthy active living. The policy environment and Canadian evidence are reviewed. Issues and challenges to policy change are discussed.
  • Recommendations to create supportive built environments that encourage healthy active living in communities include the following: 1) empower planning authorities to change bylaws that impede healthy active living, protect and increase access to green space, introduce zoning to increase high density, mixed land use, and influence the location and distribution of food stores; 2) establish stable funding for infrastructure promoting active transportation and opportunities for recreation; 3) evaluate the effectiveness of programs to improve the built environment so that successful interventions can be identified and disseminated; 4) mandate health impact assessment of planning, development and transportation policies to ensure that legislative changes promote health and safety; 5) frame issues to dispel myths and to promote protection from obesity risk factors.

Raine KD, Muhajarine N, Spence JC, Neary NE, Nykiforuk CI. (2012). Coming to consensus on policy to create supportive built environments and community design. Can J Public Health, 103(Suppl 3), eS5-8.

Increasing physical activity in under-resourced communities through school-based, joint-use agreements, Los Angeles County, 2010-2012

  • Few studies have examined how joint-use agreements between schools and communities affect use of school facilities after hours for physical activity in under-resourced communities. The objective of this study was to assess whether these agreements can increase community member use of these opened spaces outside of school hours.
  • Trained observers conducted school site observations after joint-use agreements were implemented in 7 Los Angeles County school districts. All 7 districts had disproportionately high adult and child obesity rates, and all had executed a joint-use agreement between schools and community or government entities from January 2010 through December 2012.
  • To assess use, researchers adapted the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) instrument to record the number, demographic characteristics, and physical activity levels of community members who used the joint-use school sites. To supplement observations, researchers collected contextual information for each location, including the existence of physical activity programs at the site and the condition of exercise equipment.
  • RESULTS:  We completed 172 SOPARC observations and related environmental assessments for 12 school sites. Observations made on 1,669 site users showed that most of them were Hispanic and nearly half were adults; three-quarters engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Community member use of school sites was 16 times higher in joint-use schools that had physical activity programs than in schools without such programs.
  • CONCLUSION:  Joint-use agreements are a promising strategy for increasing moderate to vigorous physical activity among adults and children in under-resourced communities. Providing physical activity programs may substantially increase after-hours use of school facilities by community members.

Lafleur M, Gonzalez E, Schwarte L, Banthia R, Kuo T, Verderber J, Simon P. (2013). Increasing physical activity in under-resourced communities through school-based, joint-use agreements, Los Angeles County, 2010-2012. Prev Chronic Dis, 10, E89. doi: 10.5888/pcd10.120270

Neighborhood Perceptions and Active School Commuting in Low-Income Cities

  • Few children accumulate the recommended ≥60 minutes of physical activity each day. Active travel to and from school (ATS) is a potential source of increased activity for children, accounting for 22% of total trips and time spent traveling by school-aged children.
  • This study identifies the association of parents’ perceptions of the neighborhood, geospatial variables, and demographic characteristics with ATS among students in four low-income, densely populated urban communities with predominantly minority populations.
  • Data were collected in 2009–2010 from households with school-attending children in four low-income New Jersey cities. Multivariate logistic regression analyses (n=765) identified predictors of ATS. Analyses were conducted in 2012.
  • Results: In all, 54% of students actively commuted to school. Students whose parents perceived the neighborhood as very unpleasant for activity were less likely (OR=0.39) to actively commute, as were students living farther from school, with a 6% reduction in ATS for every 0.10 mile increase in distance to school. Perceptions of crime, traffic, and sidewalk conditions were not predictors of ATS.
  • Conclusions:  Parents’ perceptions of the pleasantness of the neighborhood, independent of the effects of distance from school, may outweigh concerns about crime, traffic, or conditions of sidewalks in predicting active commuting to school in the low-income urban communities studied. Efforts such as cleaning up graffiti, taking care of abandoned buildings, and providing shade trees to improve neighborhood environments are likely to increase ATS, as are efforts that encourage locating schools closer to the populations they serve.

Robin S. DeWeese, Michael J. Yedidia, David L. Tulloch, Punam Ohri-Vachaspati (2013). Neighborhood Perceptions and Active School Commuting in Low-Income Cities. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45(4), 393-400. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.04.023)

Smart Growth Community Design and Physical Activity in Children

  • Researchers examined linkages between community design and physical activity. They defined a “smart growth” community as one containing features likely to promote active living (walkability, green space, mixed land use).
  • The purpose of the study was to assess whether living in a smart growth community was associated with increased neighborhood-centered leisure-time physical activity in children aged 8–14 years, compared to residing in a conventional community (i.e., one not designed according to smart growth principles).
  • Participants were recruited from a smart growth community, “The Preserve,” located in Chino, California, and eight conventional communities within a 30-minute drive of The Preserve. The analytic sample included 147 children. During 2009–2010, each child carried an accelerometer and a GPS for 7 days to ascertain physical activity and location information. Negative binomial models were used to assess the association between residence in the smart growth community and physical activity. Analyses were conducted in 2012.
  • Results:  Smart growth community residence was associated with a 46% increase in the proportion of neighborhood moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) as compared to conventional community residence. This analysis included neighborhood activity data collected during the school season and outside of school hours and home. Counterfactual simulations with model parameters suggested that smart growth community residence could add 10 minutes per day of neighborhood MVPA.
  • Conclusions:  Living in a smart growth community may increase local physical activity in children as compared to residence in conventionally designed communities.

Jerrett, M, PhD, Almanza, E., MPH, Davies, M., MS, Wolch, J., PhD, Dunton, G., PhD, Spruitj-Metz, D., PhD, Pentz, M.A., PhD. (2013). Smart Growth Community Design and Physical Activity in Children. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45(4), 386-392. 

Environmental and demographic correlates of bicycling

  • OBJECTIVE: The present study examined correlates of bicycle ownership and bicycling frequency, and projected increases in cycling if perceived safety from cars was improved.
  • METHODS:
    • Participants were 1780 adults aged 20-65 recruited from the Seattle, Washington and Baltimore, Maryland regions (48% female; 25% ethnic/racial minority) and studied in 2002-2005.
    • Bicycling outcomes were assessed by survey.
    • Multivariable models were conducted to examine demographic and built environment correlates of bicycling outcomes.
    • RESULTS:
      • About 71% of the sample owned bicycles, but 60% of those did not report cycling.
      • Among bicycle owners, frequency of riding was greater among young, male, White, educated, and lean subgroups.
      • Neighborhood walkability measures within 1km were not consistently related to bicycling.
      • For the whole sample, bicycling at least once per week was projected to increase from 9% to 39% if bicycling was safe from cars.
      • Ethnic-racial minority groups and those in the least safe neighborhoods for bicycling had greater projected increases in cycling if safety from traffic was improved.
      • CONCLUSION: Implementing measures to improve bicyclists' safety from cars would primarily benefit racial-ethnic groups who cycle less but have higher rates of chronic diseases, as well as those who currently feel least safe bicycling.

Sallis, J. F., Conway, T. L., Dillon, L. I., Frank, L. D., Adams, M. A., Cain, K. L., & Saelens, B. E. (2013). Environmental and demographic correlates of bicycling. Prev Med. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2013.06.014

Unwalkable Neighborhoods, Poverty, and the Risk of Diabetes Among Recent Immigrants to Canada Compared With Long-Term Residents

  • This study was designed to examine whether residents living in neighborhoods that are less conducive to walking or other physical activities are more likely to develop diabetes and, if so, whether recent immigrants are particularly susceptible to such effects.
  • Study design: a population-based, retrospective cohort study to assess the impact of neighborhood walkability on diabetes incidence among recent immigrants (n = 214,882) relative to long-term residents (n = 1,024,380). Adults aged 30–64 years who were free of diabetes and living in Toronto, Canada, on 31 March 2005 were identified from administrative health databases and followed until 31 March 2010 for the development of diabetes, using a validated algorithm. Neighborhood characteristics, including walkability and income, were derived from the Canadian Census and other sources.
  • Results:  Neighborhood walkability was a strong predictor of diabetes incidence independent of age and area income, particularly among recent immigrants (lowest [quintile 1 {Q1}] vs. highest [quintile 5 {Q5}] walkability quintile: relative risk [RR] 1.58 [95% CI 1.42–1.75] for men; 1.67 [1.48–1.88] for women) compared with long-term residents (Q1 to Q5) 1.32 [1.26–1.38] for men; 1.24 [1.18–1.31] for women).
  • Coexisting poverty accentuated these effects; diabetes incidence varied threefold between recent immigrants living in low-income/low walkability areas (16.2 per 1,000) and those living in high-income/high walkability areas (5.1 per 1,000).
  • Conclusions:  Neighborhood walkability was inversely associated with the development of diabetes in our setting, particularly among recent immigrants living in low-income areas.

Gillian L. Booth, Maria I. Creatore, Rahim Moineddin, Peter Gozdyra, Jonathan T. Weyman, Flora I. Matheson, and Richard H. Glazier. (2013). Unwalkable Neighborhoods, Poverty, and the Risk of Diabetes Among Recent Immigrants to Canada Compared With Long-Term Residents. Diabetes Care, 36(February 2013), 302-308. doi: 10.2337/dc12-0777 

Using Local Land Use Laws to Facilitate Physical Activity - A BTG Research Brief (2012)

  • Local zoning and land use laws specify allowable uses of land within a community to help guide new development and protect community resources. The laws may specify requirements for structural improvements, such as adding or maintaining sidewalks, bike lanes, or open space, that affect residents’ ability to be physically active.
  • This brief examines the extent to which local land use laws require structural improvements that facilitate physical activity. It also examines whether such requirements vary based on community income. The data was collected in 2010 from 264 communities across the United States.
  • Policy requirements for open space and pedestrian-friendly improvements, such as sidewalks and crosswalks, are more common than requirements for trails, bike lanes, or active recreation areas, such as playgrounds and sports fields.
  • Lower- and middle-income communities are less likely than higher-income communities to require pedestrian-friendly improvements, active recreation areas, open space, trails and bike lanes in their local land use law

Thrun E, Chriqui JF, Slater SJ, Barker DC, and Chaloupka FJ. Using Local Land Use Laws to Facilitate Physical Activity - A BTG Research Brief. Chicago, IL: Bridging the Gap Program, Health Policy Center, Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2012.

Walkable Communities and Adolescent Weight (2013)

  • Neighborhood design features have been associated with health outcomes, including the prevalence of obesity.
  • This study examined the association between walkability and adolescent weight in a national sample of public secondary school students and the communities in which they live.
  • Data were collected through student surveys and community observations between February and August 2010, and analyses were conducted in Spring 2012. The sample size was 154 communities and 11,041 students. A community walkability index and measures of the prevalence of adolescent overweight and obesity were constructed. Multivariable analyses from a cross-sectional survey of a nationally representative sample of 8th-, 10th- and 12th-grade public school students in the U.S. were run.
  • The odds of students being overweight (AOR 0.98, 95% CI=0.95, 0.99) or obese (AOR=0.97, 95% CI=0.95, 0.99) decreased if they lived in communities with higher walkability index scores.
  • Results suggest that living in more walkable communities is associated with reduced prevalence of adolescent overweight and obesity.

Slater, Sandy J., MS, PhD, Lisa Nicholson, PhD, Jamie Chriqui, PhD, Dianne C. Barker, MHS, Frank J. Chaloupka, PhD, Lloyd D. Johnston, PhD. (2013). Walkable Communities and Adolescent Weight. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(2), 164-168.

Public Health and the Green Building Industry: Partnership Opportunities for Childhood Obesity Prevention (2013) 

  • This special review article touches on a number of key built environment issues leveraged by the Safe Routes to School program to improve childhood health and prevent obesity. 
  • Improving the design of the built environment to promote health and well-being is an emerging priority within public health, particularly as a component of efforts to address the ongoing epidemic of childhood obesity.
  • Research suggests that environmental design at multiple spatial scales, ranging from regional land use and transportation planning, to accessibility of public transit, to building characteristics such as stair placement, and even the design of food trays in contexts such as school cafeterias, can influence dietary choices and physical activity.
  • Moreover, because the built environment is amenable to change, the environmental design process provides a tangible mechanism for influencing health-related social norms at a population level. This advantage is critical, given growing consensus that individual-level interventions will not be sufficient to reverse the growth in the prevalence of childhood obesity.

Trowbridge, Matthew MD, MPH. Terry T.-K. Huang, PhD, MPH. Nisha D. Botchwey, PhD, MCRP, MPH. Thomas R. Fisher, MA. Chris Pyke, PhD. Anne B. Rodgers, BA. Rachel Ballard-Barbash, MD, MPH. (2013). Public Health and the Green Building Industry: Partnership Opportunities for Childhood Obesity Prevention. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(5), 489-495.

Neighborhood Design for Walking and Biking: Physical Activity and Body Mass Index (2013)

  • Neighborhood designs often relate to physical activity and to body mass index (BMI).
  • The authors wanted to find out if neighborhood walkability/bikeability relates to BMI and obesity risk and whether moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) account for some of the relationship?
  • Census 2000 provided walkability/bikeability measures—block group proportions of workers who walk or bike to work, housing age, and population density—and National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES 2003–2006) provided MVPA accelerometer measures. Regression analyses (2011–2012) adjusted for geographic clustering and multiple control variables.
  • Greater density and older housing were associated with lower male BMI in bivariate analyses, but there were no density and housing age effects in multivariate models. For women, greater proportions of neighborhood workers who walk to work (M=0.02) and more MVPA was associated with lower BMI and lower obesity risk. For men, greater proportions of workers who bike to work (M=0.004) and more MVPA was associated with lower BMI and obesity risk. For both effects, MVPA partially mediated the relationships between walkability/bikeability and BMI. If such associations are causal, doubling walk and bike-to-work proportions (to 0.04 and 0.008) would have −0.3 and −0.33 effects on the average BMIs of adult women and men living in the neighborhood. This equates to 1.5 pounds for a 64-inch-tall woman and 2.3 pounds for a 69-inch-tall man.
  • Although walking/biking to work is rare in the U.S., greater proportions of such workers in neighborhoods relate to lower weight and higher MVPA. Bikeability merits greater attention as a modifiable activity-friendliness factor, particularly for men.

Brown BB, Smith KR, Hanson H, Fan JX, Kowaleski-jones L, Zick CD. (2013) Neighborhood design for walking and biking: physical activity and body mass index. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(3), 231-238.

Estimated Energy Expenditures for School-Based Policies and Active Living (2013)

  • This research review considered how policy and built environment could impact energy expenditure in youth.
  • Most American youth are not meeting the 60 minutes per day recommendation for moderate- to vigorous- intensity physical activity (MVPA). The CDC Community Guide and School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Guides both suggest that policy and built environment changes will affect everyone exposed to a given environment and will have long lasting effects.
  • The authors seek to provide policymakers with information for more informed decisions by quantifying the increase in energy expenditure due to school-based policies and built environment changes
  • For this review, scientific studies evaluating policy and/or built environment changes  were identified and 85 of 300 studies published in English  were selected. The impact of various strategies for increasing physical activity in youth was estimated from objective measurements or direct observation. 
  • Within school settings, the average minutes of MVPA gained per school day for studies in each intervention category were as follows:
    • School settings: Mandatory physical education (23 minutes); Classroom activity breaks (19 minutes);  Afterschool activity programs (10 minutes); Standardized physical education curricula (6 minutes more than traditional physical education); Modifıed playgrounds (6 minutes);  Modifıed recess (5 minutes more than traditional recess)
    • Community Setting: Active commuting (16 minutes); Park renovations (12 minutes); Proximity to parks (1 minute). No conclusions could be drawn regarding joint-use agreements, because of a lack of studies quantifying their impact on energy expenditure.
  • The largest effects were seen with mandatory physical education, classroom activity breaks, and active commuting to school. Policymakers can use this information along with estimates of the cost, feasibility, and population reach, to identify the best options for increasing physical activity in youth.

David R. Bassett, PhD, Eugene C. Fitzhugh, PhD, Gregory W. Heath, DHSc, MPH, Paul C. Erwin, MD, DrPH, Ginny M. Frederick, MS, Dana L. Wolff, MS, Whitney A. Welch, MS, Aaron B. Stout, MS. (2013). Estimated Energy Expenditures for School-Based Policies and Active Living. Am J Prev Med, 44(2), 108-113. 

Unwalkable Neighborhoods, Poverty, and the Risk of Diabetes Among Recent Immigrants to Canada Compared With Long-Term Residents” (2012)

  • This study was designed to examine whether residents living in neighborhoods that are less conducive to walking or other physical activities are more likely to develop diabetes and, if so, whether recent immigrants are particularly susceptible to such effects.
  • The authors conducted a population-based, retrospective cohort study to assess the impact of neighborhood walkability on diabetes incidence among recent immigrants (n = 214,882) relative to long-term residents (n = 1,024,380). Adults aged 30–64 years who were free of diabetes and living in Toronto, Canada, on March 31, 2005 were identified from administrative health databases and followed until March 31, 2010 for the development of diabetes, using a validated algorithm. Neighborhood characteristics, including walkability and income, were derived from the Canadian Census and other sources.
  • Neighborhood walkability was a strong predictor of diabetes incidence independent of age and area income, particularly among recent. Coexisting poverty accentuated these effects; diabetes incidence varied threefold between recent immigrants living in low-income/low walkability areas (16.2 per 1,000) and those living in high-income/high walkability areas (5.1 per 1,000).
  • Neighborhood walkability was inversely associated with the development of diabetes in our setting, particularly among recent immigrants living in low-income areas.

Booth, G. L., M. I. Creatore, et al. (2012). Unwalkable Neighborhoods, Poverty, and the Risk of Diabetes Among Recent Immigrants to Canada Compared With Long-Term Residents. Diabetes Care.

“Where Do Cyclists Ride? A Route Choice Model Developed with Revealed Preference GPS Data” (2012)

  • To better understand bicyclists’ preferences for facility types, GPS units were used to observe the behavior of 164 cyclists in Portland, Oregon, USA for several days each. Trip purpose and several other trip-level variables recorded by the cyclists, and the resulting trips were coded to a highly detailed bicycle network.
  • The authors used the 1449 non-exercise, utilitarian trips to estimate a bicycle route choice model. The model used a choice set generation algorithm based on multiple permutations of path attributes and was formulated to account for overlapping route alternatives.
  • The findings suggest that cyclists are sensitive to the effects of distance, turn frequency, slope, intersection control (e.g. presence or absence of traffic signals), and traffic volumes. In addition, cyclists appear to place relatively high value on off-street bike paths, enhanced neighborhood bikeways with traffic calming features (aka “bicycle boulevards”), and bridge facilities.
  • Bike lanes more or less exactly offset the negative effects of adjacent traffic, but were no more or less attractive than a basic low traffic volume street. Finally, route preferences differ between commute and other utilitarian trips; cyclists were more sensitive to distance and less sensitive to other infrastructure characteristics for commute trips.

Broach, J., J. Dill, et al. (2012). Where Do Cyclists Ride? A Route Choice Model Developed with Revealed Preference GPS Data. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 46(10):1730-1740.

Energy Expenditure Associated With the Use Of Neighborhood Parks in 2 Cities (2012)

  • Availability of public neighborhood parks is associated with physical activity. Little is known about how parks contribute to population energy balance. This study estimated energy expenditure associated with the use of neighborhood parks and compared energy expenditure by activity areas within parks and by neighborhood race/ethnicity and income.
  • The System for Observing Play and Leisure Activity among Youth (SOPLAY), a direct observation approach, was used to estimate energy expenditure in 10 Tampa, Florida parks and 19 Chicago, Illinois parks. The parks were selected from census tracts with a moderate to high representation of white, Latino, and African American populations. A total of 9454 park users were observed, and sedentary, moderate, and vigorous activities were assigned metabolic equivalence intensity (MET) values of 1.5, 3, and 6, respectively.
  • Park use in Tampa generated 15 336 total METs over the study period. Chicago parks generated 7305.6 METs. Mean METs varied by activity areas in parks. For Chicago parks, mean METs were higher for parks in African American and higher-income neighborhoods.
  • Public parks can contribute to population energy balance. Policies to make parks available, promotions to encourage park use, and programs to encourage active use of parks are necessary to achieve this potential.

Suau, L. J., M. F. Floyd, et al. (2012). Energy Expenditure Associated With the Use of Neighborhood Parks in 2 Cities. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice 18(5): 440-444.

Barriers Influencing Illinois Children School Travel Mode Choices (2012)

  • This article reports on a study that explored the barriers that prevent parents from allowing their children to commute to school.
  • The authors used data from parents of school children in Illinois, U.S., as reported in the National Safe Routes to School Parent Surveys.
  • The study finds that the top barriers for both urban and suburban children were intersection safety and traffic speed/volume. Distance from school had a greater impact on the walking or bicycling to school habits of suburban students compared to urban students.
  • The authors contend that actively commuting to school gives children the opportunity to explore nature, get exercise, and develop cognitive skills. With the barriers to active commuting to school identified, the Safe Routes to School Programs in Illinois can target their resources effectively to encourage children and their parents to consider walking and biking alternatives for trips to and from school.

Fries, R., E. Sykut, et al. (2012). Barriers Influencing Illinois Children School Travel Mode Choices. Advances in Transportation Studies 27.

“A Statewide Observational Assessment of the Pedestrian and Cycling Environment in Hawaii, 2010. (2012)”

  • Walking and bicycling are important but underused modes of transportation in the United States. Road design influences how much walking and bicycling takes place along streets and roads. Currently, numerous national policy initiatives, including Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets, are attempting to improve pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure and “friendliness.” However, no state has completed a systematic assessment of its streets to determine how amenable they are to walking and bicycling. This statewide study was undertaken to assess how accessible and friendly Hawaii roads are to these 2 activities.
  • The authors randomly selected street segments in Hawaii’s 4 counties and then completed objective assessments using the Pedestrian Environmental Data Scan. They audited 321 segments, and interrater reliability was adequate across all measures. Streets were coded as high (42.4%) or low capacity (57.6%) depending on how much vehicular traffic the street was designed to accommodate. Outcome measures included street accommodations (ie, sidewalks and crossing aids) and pedestrian and bicyclist use.
  • Most high-capacity streets had sidewalks (66%). These sidewalks were usually in good condition, contiguous, and had traffic control devices and pedestrian signals. Most low-capacity roads did not have sidewalks (63.4%). Bicycling facilities were limited (<10%) on both types of roads. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic was related to mixed use, including both residential and retail space, and to pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure.
  • Road segments in Hawaii with more infrastructure and types of use, including single-family houses, apartment complexes, restaurants, office buildings, and industrial buildings, are used more by pedestrians and bicyclists.

Maddock JE, Ramirez V, Heinrich KM, Zhang M, Brunner IM. (2012). “A Statewide Observational Assessment of the Pedestrian and Cycling Environment in Hawaii, 2010.” Preventing Chronic Disease.

“From Barrier Elimination to Barrier Negotiation: A Qualitative Study of Parents’ Attitudes about Active Travel for Elementary School Trips” (2012)

  • This paper examines parents' responses to key factors associated with mode choices for school trips. The research was conducted with parents of elementary school students in Denver Colorado as part of a larger investigation of school travel.
  • School-based active travel programs aim to encourage students to walk or bike to school more frequently. To that end, planning research has identified an array of factors associated with parents' decisions to drive children to school. Many findings are interpreted as ‘barriers’ to active travel, implying that parents have similar objectives with respect to travel mode choices and that parents respond similarly and consistently to external conditions. While the conclusions are appropriate in forecasting demand and mode share with large populations, they are generally too coarse for programs that aim to influence travel behavior with individuals and small groups.
  • This research uses content analysis of interview transcripts to examine the contexts of factors associated with parents' mode choices for trips to and from elementary school. Short, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 65 parents from 12 Denver Public Elementary Schools that had been selected to receive 2007–08 Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure grants. Transcripts were analyzed using Nvivo 8.0 to find out how parents respond to selected factors that are often described in planning literature as ‘barriers’ to active travel.
  • Regular active travel appears to diminish parents' perceptions of barriers so that negotiation becomes second nature. Findings from this study suggest that intervention should build capacity and inclination in order to increase rates of active travel.

Zuniga, Kelly Draper. (2012). “From Barrier Elimination to Barrier Negotiation: A Qualitative Study of Parents’ Attitudes about Active Travel for Elementary School Trips” Transport Policy 20: 75–81.

“Health Impact Assessment of the Atlanta BeltLine” (2012)

  • Although a health impact assessment (HIA) is a tool that can provide decision makers with recommendations to promote positive health impacts and mitigate adverse health impacts of proposed projects and policies, it is not routinely conducted on most major projects or policies.
  • To make health a decision criterion for the Atlanta BeltLine, a multibillion-dollar transit, trails, parks, and redevelopment project, a HIA was conducted in 2005–2007 to anticipate and influence the BeltLine's effect on health determinants.
  • Changes in access and equity, environmental quality, safety, social capital, and physical activity were forecast, and steps to maximize health benefits and reduce negative effects were recommended.
  • Key recommendations included giving priority to the construction of trails and greenspace rather than residential and retail construction, making health an explicit goal in project priority setting, adding a public health professional to decision-making boards, increasing the connectivity between the BeltLine and civic spaces, and ensuring that affordable housing is built. BeltLine project decision makers have incorporated most of the HIA recommendations into the planning process. The HIA was cited in the awarding of additional funds of $7,000,000 for brownfield clean-up and greenspace development. The project is expected to promote the health of local residents more than in the absence of the HIA.
  • This report is one of the first HIAs to tie specific assessment findings to specific recommendations and to identifiable impacts from those recommendations. The lessons learned from this project may help others engaged in similar efforts.

Ross, C. L., K. Leone de Nie, et al. (2012). "Health Impact Assessment of the Atlanta BeltLine." American journal of preventive medicine 42(3): 203-213.

“Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Metabolic Risk” (2012)

  • Limited evidence exists on the metabolic and cardiovascular risk correlates of commuting by vehicle, a habitual form of sedentary behavior.
  • To examine the association between commuting distance, physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), and metabolic risk indicators.
  • This cross-sectional study included 4297 adults who had a comprehensive medical examination between 2000 and 2007 and geocoded home and work addresses in 12 Texas metropolitan counties. Commuting distance was measured along the road network. Outcome variables included weekly MET-minutes of self-reported physical activity, CRF, BMI, waist circumference, triglycerides, plasma glucose, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and continuously measured metabolic syndrome. Outcomes were also dichotomized using established cut-points. Linear and logistic regression models were adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics, smoking, alcohol intake, family history of diabetes, and history of high cholesterol, as well as BMI and weekly MET-minutes of physical activity and CRF (for BMI and metabolic risk models). Analyses were conducted in 2011.
  • Commuting distance was negatively associated with physical activity and CRF and positively associated with BMI, waist circumference, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and continuous metabolic score in fully adjusted linear regression models. Logistic regression analyses yielded similar associations; however, of the models with metabolic risk indicators as outcomes, only the associations with elevated blood pressure remained significant after adjustment for physical activity and CRF.
  • Commuting distance was adversely associated with physical activity, CRF, adiposity, and indicators of metabolic risk.

Hoehner, C. M., C. E. Barlow, et al. (2012). "Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Metabolic Risk." American journal of preventive medicine 42(6): 571-578.

“Taking Up Cycling After Residential Relocation: Built Environment Factors” (2012)

  • To successfully stimulate cycling, it is necessary to understand the factors that facilitate or inhibit cycling. Little is known about how changes in the neighborhood environment are related to changes in cycling behavior.
  • This study aimed to identify environmental determinants of the uptake of cycling after relocation.
  • The RESIDential Environment Project (RESIDE) is a longitudinal natural experiment of people moving into new housing developments in Perth (Western Australia). Self-reported usual transport and recreational cycling behavior, as well as self-reported and objective built environmental factors were measured before and after residential relocation. Participants who did not usually cycle at baseline in 2003–2004 were included in the study. Logistic regression models were used to relate changes in built environmental determinants to the probability of taking up cycling after relocation (2005–2006). Analyses were carried out in 2010–2011.
  • At baseline, 90% (n=1289) of the participants did not cycle for transport and 86% (n=1232) did not cycle for recreation. After relocation, 5% of the noncyclists took up transport-related cycling, and 7% took up recreational cycling. After full adjustment, the uptake of transport-related cycling was determined by an increase in objective residential density (OR=1.54, 95% CI=1.04, 2.26) and self-reported better access to parks (OR=2.60, 95% CI=1.58, 4.27) and other recreation destinations (OR=1.57, 95% CI=1.12, 2.22). Commencing recreational cycling mostly was determined by an increase in objective street connectivity (OR=1.20, 95% CI=1.06, 1.35).
  • Changes in the built environment may support the uptake of cycling among formerly noncycling adults.

Beenackers, M. A., S. Foster, et al. (2012). "Taking Up Cycling After Residential Relocation: Built Environment Factors." American journal of preventive medicine 42(6): 610-615.

“Toward Environments and Policies That Promote Injury-Free Active Living—It Wouldn’t Hurt” (2012)

  • Although being active is vital to the health and well-being of children, increases in physical activity can lead to an elevated risk of injury, which is a leading cause of childhood mortality globally.
  • This article provides an overview of the evidence base concerning unintentional injuries associated with popular forms of physical activities for youth, and describes how injury prevention and child obesity professionals can work together to prevent injuries while promoting active lifestyles.
  • Policy and environmental interventions that are beneficial to both outcomes are highlighted and recommendations for future research for these complementary areas are also provided.

Pollack, K. M., C. Kercher, et al. (2012). "Toward environments and policies that promote injury-free active living—it wouldn't hurt." Health & Place 18(1): 106-114.

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