2015 - Research

Association Between School Policies and Built Environment, and Youth’s Participation in Various Types of Physical Activities

School environments that support active commuting best encourage young people’s participation in different types of physical activities. 

Key takeaway:

  • School environments that support active commuting best encourage young people’s participation in different types of physical activities. There is a gendered impact, too: School policies that promote active commuting encourage girls to participate more in organized and group physical activities while encouraging boys to participate more in individual physical activities and meet recommended physical activity levels.

 

Results:

  • While neither boys nor girls met recommended physical activity levels, girls were only half as likely to attain them as boys. Only 11.2 percent of boys and 5.4 percent of girls reported achieving 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity seven days of the week at each survey cycle.
  • For both boys and girls, more students participated in non-organized than organized physical activities, and more participated in individual versus group activities.
  • For boys, none of the school environmental characteristics (i.e., facilities, recess rules, intramural activities, interscholastic sports, physical education, active commuting, and school policies) significantly impacted whether they participated in organized or group-based physical activities. For girls, none of the school environmental characteristics significantly impacted whether they participated in non-organized, group-based, and individual physical activities. However, girls were less likely to partake in organized activities in physical education classes.
  • Girls attending schools that support active commuting were more likely to engage in organized and group physical activities. This is paradoxical since active commuting (walking and bicycling) is a non-organized, individual activity. It is possible that schools favoring active commuting promote organized and group-based physical activities. However, attending a school that favored active commuting didn’t increase girls’ likelihoods of attaining recommended physical activity levels.
  • Boys attending schools supportive of active commuting were more likely to engage in individual physical activities. Moreover, a school environment that favored active commuting was more impactful on boys’ likelihood of meeting recommended physical activity levels than sports and exercise facilities.
  • Physical education class duration and frequency, time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical education during physical education, and the total number of intramural and/or interscholastic activities are not correlated with the types of physical activities either gender engaged in, or the likelihood of either gender to meet recommended physical activity levels.
  • Contrary to findings from previous studies on school environments and physical activity levels, this study did not find any association among the presence and accessibility of sports/exercise facilities, recess rules, intramural/interscholastic activities, and physical education classes with participation in various types of physical activity. Instead, a school environment that encouraged active commuting was the most important school characteristic to promote several types of physical activity and the fulfillment of recommended physical activity levels for boys and girls.

 

Implications:

  • The key finding from this study—that children attending schools favoring active commuting are most likely to engage in various types of physical activities and meet recommended physical activity levels—underscores the importance of Safe Routes to School as an effective public health intervention.
  • Schools, school boards, and local governments could work together to implement Safe Routes to School and other active commuting programming, policies, and infrastructure. Examples include “walking school bus” programs, active transportation days, allowing skateboards on school premises, providing secure bike parking in front of or near schools, and ensuring that crossing guards are at pedestrian crossings.
  • The gender gap in achieving recommended levels of physical activity, coupled with the finding that attending schools that favor active commuting increases boys’ likelihoods—but not girls’—likelihoods of meeting physical activity recommendations, are important to note. Effective programs and policies to encourage active commuting must consider how other factors, like the confidence gap between men and women (which can start in pre-adolescence and adolescence, or even earlier), sexual harassment, and standards of beauty/femininity affect girls’ propensity to engage in physical activity.  

 

Methods:

  • This study investigates how a school’s political and physical environment impacts participation in different types of physical activities activity (i.e., organized, non-organized, individual, and group activities) by gender. The researchers sampled 776 students in fifth and sixth grades from 16 schools in New Brunswick, a bilingual Canadian province of approximately 756,000 residents. In the fall of 2011, they administered school-based questionnaires to school representatives to evaluate the school environment, as well as self-reporting questionnaires to students about their physical activities. The researchers then used multilevel logistic regressions to identify and analyze relationships between the school environment and students’ physical activity.

 

Ward, S.; Belanger, M.; Donovan, D.; Caissie, I.; Goguen, J.; and Vanasse, A. (2015). Association Between School Policies and Built Environment, and Youth’s Participation in Various Types of Physical Activities. Journal of School Health, 85(7).