Children who walk or bike to school get more exercise in their daily lives, which is a basic goal in the fight against childhood obesity. There has been extensive study of demographics and the physical environments associated with kid’s active travel to school, but very little investigation of neighborhood social factors that may also influence the choice of travel. This study looks at one aspect of social environment—do parents think other neighborhood adults will monitor and intervene in children’s inappropriate behavior—to see if this child-centered social control correlates to children walking to school. They also looked at whether the child’s sex or household race/ethnicity further influenced school transport choice. Researchers surveyed 357 parents of 10- to 14-year-olds in the San Francisco Bay Area during 2006 and 2007.
This study finds parents’ perception of their neighborhood’s child-centered social control is a significant factor in whether children walk to school, particularly for girls and non-Hispanic White children. Although the majority of federal Safe Routes to School funds must be spent on infrastructure, between 10 and 30 percent of funds can be spent on education and encouragement programs. This study suggests programs that help build neighborhood connectedness, such as e-mail listservs, neighborhood events and the creation of walking school buses, may encourage more children to walk to school. However, the cross-sectional nature of this study means causal links cannot be determined; it is possible families who walk to school meet more people and have more positive views of their neighborhoods or choose to live in neighborhoods with more social control.