Research shows best strategies for active school travel

Children aged 5-12 need 60 minutes of physical activity every day and statistics show Queensland children are not reaching recommended levels.

Griffith University researchers have uncovered the most effective strategies that can be used to encourage kids to walk to school.

Bo Pang, research fellow and PHD candidate for Social Marketing @ Griffith, said the benefits of active school travel (AST) are manifold.

“We know that active school travel is good for kids delivering health benefits. What we don’t think about is that active school travel offers so much more. It is free, convenient and importantly it delivers social benefits for children including the friends travelled with and the opportunity to build independence,” he explained.

“On top of these benefits, studies show that active school travel improves students’ performance in classrooms. Students who walk, scoot or cycle to school are more prepared and are ready to learn.”

The number of children walking to school has declined significantly over the past 30 years, due to a rise in car transport use and concerns about safety.

To combat this, Mr Pang, Associate Professor Krzysztof Kubacki and Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele looked at AST strategies used by school communities around the world to find out what has been used to encourage active school travel and the effectiveness of approaches used to understand what has changed behaviours in the longer term.

“When it comes to what works, it’s always good policy,” said Mr Pang.

“No matter what level it comes from, whether it’s federal, state, local government or even at a school level implementation of policy delivered increases in active school travel.

“Environmental factors also play a part and not just physical elements like roads. It’s about how people perceive the environment surrounding them.

“For example, in some interventions, schools have increased patrols on the street to keep an eye on kids and help with traffic control. In these interventions parents felt less concerned and they were more willing for their kids to be part of the movement.”

As for what doesn’t work, putting people in a classroom, delivering information and lecturing with no follow-up or interactivity didn’t deliver behaviour change.

“Make it fun, keep it interesting and find ways to ensure the program is more attractive to children – perhaps through gamification – so they can have fun while doing it,” said Mr Pang.

While not everyone is in a position to walk to the entire way to school, Mr Pang said alternatives can be delivered including ‘drop and go’ points and ‘walking school buses’.

“Active school travel ensures children get both the benefits of a supervised environment and being physically active while we all benefit from less road congestion!”

Social Marketing @ Griffith conducted the research into AST as part of their plan to work in partnerships to increase active school travel in southeast Queensland.