2018 - Research

A longitudinal study of the distance that young people walk to school

Key takeaway:

  • Travel distance has been shown to have the strongest association with active commuting to school, with shorter distances associated with higher rates of active travel. 

Results:

  • A Belgian study found 1.5 km and 2 km (approximately 1-1.25 miles) to be walkable distances to school for 11-12 year olds and 17-18 year olds, respectively. An Irish study reported 2.4 km (approximately 1.5 miles) to be an acceptable walking distance for 15-17 year olds.
  • The contribution of this study is that it identifies the threshold distances that children walk to school, and that this increases with age.
  • The threshold distances were 1421 m (just under 1 mile) at 10 years, 1627 m (just over 1 mile) at 11 years, and 3046 m (just under 2 miles) at 14 years.
  • The distance that best distinguished walkers from passive commuters was 1.4 km and 1.6 km when children were 10 and 11 years old, respectively. This distance increased up to 3 km when children were 14 years old.

 

Implications:

  • According to the researchers, the “walkable” distance varies across age groups. Therefore, planning interventions to increase active commuting to school should consider two approaches:
    • Increase the rate of walkers within the currently identified walkable distance (i.e., those living closer to 1.5 km among children aged 10).
    • Increase the length of the threshold distance (i.e., targeting active travel interventions at 10-year-old children living between 1.5-2 km.

 

Methods:

  • The SPEEDY study (Sport Physical Activity and Eating Behavior: Environmental determinants in young people) is a population-based longitudinal cohort study investigating factors associated with physical activity and dietary behavior among children attending schools in Norfolk county in the UK. Mode of commute and objectively assessed distance to school were measured at three time points: ages 9/10, 10/11, and 13/14.

 

Chillon, P.; Panter, P.; Jones, A.P.; and Van Slujis, E.M.F. (2014). A longitudinal study of the distance that young people walk to school. Health & Place, 31.