2017 - Research

Parental Perceptions of Barriers to Active Commuting to School in Spanish Children and Adolescents

There has been a decline in active transportation to school in children and adolescents in recent decades in the United States and Spain. While there are several studies examining the associations between parents’ perceptions and modes of transport to school in children and adolescents in the United States and Australia, studies are lacking in Europe.

Key takeaway:

  • There has been a decline in active transportation to school in children and adolescents in recent decades in the United States and Spain. While there are several studies examining the associations between parents’ perceptions and modes of transport to school in children and adolescents in the United States and Australia, studies are lacking in Europe. This study begins to fill that gap and uses Spain as a case study to augment a global understanding of parents’ perceptions of barriers to active transport to school. 
  • The researchers refer to Safe Routes to School programming throughout the article, which reflects the international reach and relevance of Safe Routes to School. 

Results:

  • Parental barriers to children’s and adolescents’ active commuting to school are influenced by children’s age, gender, and mode of transport. For parents of children, traffic volume and dangerous intersections are the main barriers. For parents of adolescents, distance to school, and crime are the main barriers.
  • Among parents of children, crime was a more commonly cited barrier by parents of girls as opposed to parents of boys. This is consistent with findings from similar studies in Belgium and Australia, which also found parents of girls to be more worried about crime than parents of boys.
  • Parents of “passive commuters” (children/adolescents who commute to/from school by car, motorcycle, bus, or train) perceived a greater number of barriers to active transport to school (i.e., absence of adult supervision, absence of sidewalk or bike lanes, time required to actively commute to school, and the weather) versus parents of active commuters (children/adolescents who walk or bike to school).
  • This study underscores the need to reduce traffic volume and improve intersection safety through engineering/built environment changes or police presence at crosswalks around primary schools.

Implications:

  • One of the main implications of this study is to improve parental perceptions of the environment and safety of active transport to school:
    • For parents of children, programs like working with school travel coordinators, walking school buses, or Safe Routes to School, are important to improve parental perceptions of safety of active transport.
    • For parents of adolescents, it is important to work with local governments to address environmental policies and decrease the distance between secondary schools and residential areas.
    • Although the study recommends increasing police presence at crosswalks around primary schools, this may not be the best solution in the United States, given historical legacies and present realities of police brutality and the public’s negative attitudes towards policing. Instead, crossing guards and school safety patrols would also work.

Methods:

  • The researchers distributed a 25-question survey to parents of children (aged 9-12) and adolescents (aged 12-16) in nine schools from urban areas of Granada, Spain between April 2014 and May 2015. Parents self-reported their socioeconomic and demographic information and answered questions about their children’s or adolescents’ mode of transport to school.

Huertas-Delgado, F.J.; Herrador-Colmenero, M.; Villa-Gonzalez, E.; Aranda-Balboa, M. J.; Caceres, M. V.; Mandic, S.; and Chillon, P. (2017). Parental perceptions of barriers to active commuting to school in Spanish children and adolescents. European Journal of Public Health, 27(3).