Neighborhood perceptions and active school commuting in low-income cities

Robin S. DeWeese, Michael Yedidia, David Tulloch, Punam Ohri-Vachaspati

Publication Date: 10/01/2013

Background: 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. Purpose: 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. Methods: 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.