Sociodemographic, Family, and Environmental Factors Associated with Active Commuting to School Among US Adolescents

Teens are more likely to walk, bike, or skateboard to or from school if they live within two miles, according to this analysis of data from a California health survey. But some sociodemographic factors also appear to encourage active commuting. This paper is part of a supplement to the Journal of Public Health Policy, reporting on the 2008 Active Living Research Conference.

Walking, biking or skateboarding to school can be a way for teens to get regular exercise but few previous studies on "active commuting" to school have focused on adolescents. This study uses data from the 2005 California Health Interview Survey, which interviewed adults and adolescents by phone, to look at which teens are more likely to actively commute. Responses from a diverse group of 3,893 adolescents, aged 12–17 years who attended school outside of the home, were analyzed.

Key Findings:

  • Nearly half said they had walked, biked or skateboarded to or from school at least once in the previous week; 25 percent said they had done so at least three times.
  • Students most likely to actively commute to/from school lived within two miles of the school.
  • Boys, Latinos, kids from lower-income families, public school students and those living in cities also were more likely to actively commute, as were students with parents who "know little or nothing" of their whereabouts after school.

The strong association between distance to school and active commuting suggests locating middle and high schools close to where pupils live will favor this physical activity. There are limitations to this study, including that straight-line distances to schools were used. This could underestimate the length of walking routes, especially in less dense suburban and rural areas.  If, for example, white or more affluent teens tend to live in less walkable suburban or rural environments, the demographic analysis could be effected. The authors recommend many additional avenues of research, including how to increase active commuting among subgroups less likely to do so.