A recent survey led by Dr. Roman Pabayo of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre and the University’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine has revealed that children living in urban areas, with single parent and in an economically disadvantaged home are most likely to use active transportation compared to others. The term ‘active transportation’ relates to physical exertion and mostly includes walking or cycling to school. It does not include the use of any public transportation, school buses and driving.

The results of the study were published on July 4, 2011 in Pediatrics. What makes Pabayo’s study one of a kind is that the same groups of children were followed as they aged throughout the school years and it provided evidence that although children like to walk or cycle to school when they are young, they do not prefer to do so after they reach 10 or 11 years of age.

Pabayo said,

“The study is important for the well-being of children because most children are not meeting physical activity guidelines needed for optimal growth and development.”

He further explained,

“Active transportation to school represents an affordable and easy way to incorporate physical activity in the daily routines of children. In a separate study on children in Quebec, we have actually found significant associations between weight and whether the child cycles or walks to school.”

A number of interesting factors linked with transport of choice were revealed by this study that looked at the habits of 7690 Canadian children. Children who had friends living close by were more than twice as likely to walk or cycle to school in comparison to other children. Absence of traffic lights or pedestrian crossings on the route to school led to decreased preference of active transportation by adolescents. The study also revealed that it was very motivating for children to use active transportation when accompanied by older siblings.

The results of this study suggest a need for more studies that could explain the trends and factors identified by the researchers.

Pabayo said,

“Why are children from Saskatchewan and Manitoba the most likely to use active transport at a given point in their lives? What about children from poorer backgrounds? Why are there different patterns as children age across socio-demographic and regional lines? If we can gain a better understanding of the factors that influence how children get to school, we may be able to encourage more families to bike or walk to school, leading to lifelong healthy behaviors.”


Written by Barry Windsor