Built Environment Predictors of Active Travel to School Among Rural Adolescents

A study to determine whether built environment characteristics (BECs) of school neighborhoods predict active travel to school (ATS) among adolescents in two mostly rural states found that BECs influence but are not sole predictors of ATS.

The authors examined school neighborhood BECs in Vermont and New Hampshire using census data and on-site observation, and conducted phone surveys with adolescents and their parents. They assessed BECs for residential density, nonresidential land use and structural characteristics. “Active travelers” were defined as adolescents who walked or bicycled to or from school at least one day a week during at least one season.

Adolescents who were studied (47.4%) lived within three miles of school, and 52.8 percent of those were active travelers. Fall and spring saw more frequent ATS than winter, and more active travelers walked than bicycled. ATS was more common among adolescents in lower-income and single-parent households, and for students living within one mile of school. ATS was also more common for schools in dense residential neighborhoods, neighborhoods with a high density of intersections and taller and continuous buildings.

School neighborhood BECs only predicted ATS for students living within two miles of school. Students in rural areas therefore may require more than school neighborhood BEC improvement to promote ATS and other physical activity.