Active Travel to Primary Schools in Ireland: An Opportunistic Evaluation of a Natural Experiment

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health
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Background:

There is a paucity of intervention studies assessing active travel to school as a mechanism to increase physical activity. This paper describes the impact of a community-wide intervention on active travel to primary schools in 2 Irish towns.

Methods:

This was a repeat cross-sectional study of a natural experiment. Self-report questionnaires were completed by 5th and 6th grade students in 3 towns (n = 1038 students in 2 intervention towns; n = 419 students in 1 control town) at baseline and by a new group of students 2 years later at follow-up. The absolute change in the proportion of children walking and cycling to school (difference in differences) was calculated.

Results:

There was no overall intervention effect detected for active travel to or from school. This is despite an absolute increase of 14.7% (1.6, 27.9) in the proportion of children that indicated a preference for active travel to school in the town with the most intensive intervention (town 2).

Conclusions:

Interventions designed to increase active travel to school hold some promise but should have a high-intensity mix of infrastructural and behavioral measures, be gender-specific, address car dependency and focus on travel home from school initially.

Lambe and Murphy are with the Dept of Health, Sport, and Exercise Science, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland. Bauman is with the Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Australia.

Lambe (blambe@wit.ie) is the corresponding author.