Evaluation of School Transportation Patterns and the Associated Impact on BMI in 2 Midwestern Communities

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health
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The decline in active commuting to and from school in the United States is, in part, due to urban design standards and public policies that promote automobile travel and discourage pedestrian activity.


The current investigation examines active commuting at neighborhood schools and how it is altered by distance to school, student age and its potential impact on Body Mass Index.


Demographic and transportation datasets were obtained for 5367 elementary students (K−5th grade) and middle school students (6th−8th grade) in 2 Midwestern communities.


4379 (81.6%) students were successfully geocoded and 21.9% actively commute to school at least half of the time meeting the Healthy People 2010 objective 22−14. Of those students who could potentially actively commute to school (0.5 mile for grades K−5 and 1 mile for grades 6−8) 36.6% are passive commuters. No significant negative associations were found between BMI z-score or BMI percentile with accumulation of activity through active commuting (frequency × distance) for elementary (r = −0.04, P = .27) or middle school students (r = .027, P = .56).


Many elementary students living within 0.3−0.4 miles are being driven to school. Promoting pedestrian-friendly communities and making healthy and sustainable transportation choices should be priorities for community leaders and school administrators.

Heelan, Abbey, and Bartee are with the Dept of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Leisure Studies, University of Nebraska at Kearney. Combs and Burger are with the Dept of Geography, University of Nebraska at Kearney.