Objective: To explore the relationship between frequency of walking trips, perceptions of the local environment and individual travel preferences in children.
Design: Cross-sectional questionnaire-based study.
Setting: Six primary schools in Birmingham, UK, range of socioeconomic classifications.
Participants: 473 children aged 9–11 years (82% response rate), including 250 (52.9%) boys and 160 (33.8%) from ethnic minority populations.
Outcome measures: The primary outcome measure was level of walking (high or low) based on self-reported walking frequency in the past week. Secondary outcome measures included child perceptions of seven aspects of the local environment and individual travel preference. All outcomes were measured through questionnaires administered at school in the presence of a researcher.
Results: 198 (41.9%) children were classified as high walkers and 275 (58.1%) as low walkers. After adjusting for confounding factors, high walkers were more likely to perceive heavy traffic surrounding their homes (odds ratio (OR) 1.55, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.03 to 2.33), unsafe streets (OR 1.88, 95% CI 1.27 to 2.80) and prefer healthier modes of travel (OR 1.67, 95% CI 2.56 to 1.08). High walkers were less likely to worry about strangers (OR 0.66, 95% CI 0.45 to 1.02) and less likely to report no parks or sports grounds nearby (OR 0.66, 95% CI 0.42 to 1.02). Children from ethnic minority groups walked significantly less than white children (mean number of walking trips 16.8 and 21.9, respectively, p<0.001).
Conclusions: Certain environmental perceptions are related to walking levels in children. Awareness of these may help in the development of future interventions, and also enable healthcare professionals to encourage walking by providing case-specific and appropriate advice.
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Funding: DA was supported by a Health Foundation Student Fellowship during the time this research was conducted.
Competing interests: None.
Ethical approval: The proposal was reviewed by the South Birmingham Student Research Ethics Committee before the start of the study. Informed, written consent was obtained from parents or guardians of participants before their recruitment into the study.
All research was conducted independently of the sponsors.
Contributors: DA designed the study, collected the data, analysed the results and wrote the paper; he acts as guarantor. PA advised on study design, data collection, data analysis and paper writing. LR advised on study design, data collection and paper writing. TB assisted in the development of the original idea and questionnaire design.
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