Teens in urban areas more physically active through school travel than suburban teens

Teens in urban areas more physically active through school travel than suburban teens

Although it’s not the proverbial 10-mile hike in the snow uphill (both ways), getting to school as part of living in an urban environment gets teens more physically active than traveling to and from school in a suburban setting, according to a study out of UBC's Centre for Hip Health and Mobility (CHHM), a Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute centre. 

“Active (non-motorized) transportation, such as walking or cycling, to school is a great opportunity for kids to engage in routine behaviour and obtain physical activity to meet the 60 minutes per day recommended for health benefits,” explains CHHM project manager and study lead author Amanda Frazer.

Published in Preventive Medicine Reports in February 2015, Frazer’s study “Differences in adolescents' physical activity from school-travel between urban and suburban neighbourhoods in Metro Vancouver, Canada” compared an urban sample of teenagers from Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood to a sample of teenagers from a suburban area of Surrey. The research team looked at how the youth traveled to school and how the various modes contributed to physical activity. 

The study found that urban-dwelling teens walked to school more and got more physical activity from the school commute than their suburban-dwelling counterparts. Among those who walked to school, urban teens got 25% more physical activity. Urban walkers also had nearly three times more physical activity from their commute when compared to suburban passive travelers (i.e. car or bus users). Of particular interest though, was that urban students who used passive transportation to get to and from school accumulated the same amount of physical activity as the suburban students who walked to school. That is to say, even when using passive transportation, teens in the urban environment accumulated twice as much physical activity from school trips than suburban-dwelling teens using passive transportation. The authors believe this marked increase in passive transportation-related physical activity is to do with mode choice since the urban teens used public transit to get to school while most suburban teens were driven in the family car.

We are grateful for our partners at the City of Surrey (@CityofSurrey), City of Vancouver (@CityofVancouver), Surrey and Vancouver School Boards (@Surrey_Schools, @VSB39), Simon Fraser University (@SFU), University of Victoria (@UVIC).

This study is supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (@TheHSF), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (@CIHR_IRSC), TELUS Community Board (@TELUS), and Canadian Cancer Society (@CancerSociety)