Exercise as it relates to Disease/How walking, cycling or being driven to school influences physical activity levels in children

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This is an analysis of the journal article “Physical Activity Levels of Children Who Walk, Cycle, or Are Driven to School” by Cooper, Anderson, Wedderopp, Page and Froberg (2005).[1]

What is the background to this research?[edit]

Physical activity is one of the major contributors to a healthy lifestyle, it decreases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression.[2] Physical inactivity is estimated to be a factor in 3.2 million deaths globally per year, this is the fourth highest risk factor for global mortality.[2] The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that in 2012 only 29% of children are meeting the minimum recommended physical activity levels each day.[3] In 2008 the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that a quarter of Australian children were overweight or obese, a 4% increase from 1995, and obesity levels have continued to increase since.[4][5] The major problem with these statistics is that overweight and obese children are more likely to continue down this path as they transition into adulthood.[6] These adults will have a greater risk of developing weight related diseases at an earlier age.[6] That is why it is important for children to be physically active and this study suggests that the way child travel to school impacts their physical activity levels.

Where is the research from?[edit]

The research is from Cooper, Anderson, Wedderopp, Page and Froberg in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.[1] The research was conducted in 35 selected schools in the Odense region, Denmark. The research team has spent a lot of time researching the area of physical fitness and specifically the physical activity levels in children, they are well respected in this field of study.

What kind of research was it?[edit]

This was a quantitative study, it involved the use of an accelerometer that the participants wore and data was collected from. This made the data more reliable than self reporting which is generally not as consistent and does not hold up as well as quantitative data.

What did the research involve?[edit]

A total of 590 children were randomly recruited from 35 schools, 323 children (152 boys, 181 girls) fulfilled all the criteria to be a part of the final sample. The children in the sampling group had an average age of 9.7 (SD=0.4). The participants had to wear the accelerometer for any 10 hours between 6am and 10pm each day, however in that time they had to wear it for their journey to school (7am-8am) so that the different journeys could be compared.[1] The data was collected for 4–5 days per week (including 2 weekend days). The information that was collected from the children was;

  • How they travelled to school.
  • Their physical activity volume, pattern and intensity during the whole day.

What were the basic results?[edit]

The researchers for this study found that children who walked to school were more physically active than those who cycled to school, the active commuting (walking or cycling) children were more physically active than children driven to school. Boys who actively commuted to school stayed more active throughout the day than the boys driven to school, for girls the mode of transport did not have a significant effect on their activity levels during the day. The study also found that the boys who walked to school recorded 34 minutes more moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day than boys who were driven to school and girls recorded 40 minutes more. The journey to school contributed to little of the children’s total daily physical activity levels, with most journeys to school being under 10 minutes for active travellers.[1]

How did the researchers interpret the results?[edit]

The researcher's interpretation of the results were that walking and cycling to school may be linked with an overall higher level of physical activity in primary school children than those who were driven to school. The researchers had to take into account that for most of the children in the study only 2-3 weekdays were monitored with an accelerometer per week, this could have enhanced the results in some way. The researchers believe that the findings cannot be explained by the natural differences in the children because the results indicated that the active commuters were less physically active on the weekend than on weekdays. It is suggested in this study that this is because of how the children commuted to school but there isn't enough evidence to support this claim and more research would have to be done to prove this.[1]

What conclusions can we take from this research?[edit]

Walking or cycling to school could be an effective way to increase the physical activity levels of primary school aged children, however even with some of the positive results the study found there is not enough evidence to conclude that actively travelling to school will increase physical activity levels. The amount of children that are overweight or obese has been increasing over the past decade[4] and the physical activity levels play an important role in this. A report on the physical activity levels of young people in Australia found that half of all primary school aged children actively travelled to school once per week and less than 25% actively travelled 3 or more times per week.[7] This report is similar, if not worse than the research out of Denmark, meaning that this is also a significant problem for Australian children.[7] The overall aim is for children to have a healthier lifestyle and physical activity through walking or cycling to school could potentially aid in this but more research is required.

Practical advice[edit]

The research has shown that actively commuting to school has an influence on the physical activity levels of children, it is important for parents to be informed about these benefits and for them to push their children to walk or cycle to school as much as possible. It is also important for schools to encourage their students to actively travel to school and for the children to be involved with events such as walk safely to school day, which promotes road safety, health and the environment.[8]

Further information[edit]

For further information concerning the benefits of walking and cycling to school on physical activity; click on the links below:

References[edit]

  1. a b c d e Cooper, Ashley R; Andersen, Lars Bo; Wedderkopp, Niels; Page, Angie S; Froberg, Karsten (2005). "Physical Activity Levels of Children Who Walk, Cycle, or Are Driven to School". American Journal of Preventive Medicine 29 (3): 179–84. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2005.05.009. PMID 16168866. 
  2. a b WHO (2015) Physical activity. Available at: http://www.who.int/topics/physical_activity/en/ (Accessed: 31 August 2016).
  3. Health, A.I. of and 2016, W. (2016) Insufficient physical activity (AIHW). Available at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/risk-factors/insufficient-physical-activity/ (Accessed: 29 August 2016).
  4. a b CHILDREN WHO ARE OVERWEIGHT OR OBESE (2009) Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features20Sep+2009 (Accessed: 28 August 2016).
  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) Physical Activity. Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4364.0.55.004Chapter1002011-12 (Accessed: 31 August 2016).
  6. a b WHO (2016) Childhood overweight and obesity. Available at: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/childhood/en/ (Accessed: 31 August 2016).
  7. a b c Tomkinson, G., Olds, T. and Schranz, N. (2015) The Road Less Travelled. Available at: http://www.activehealthykidsaustralia.com.au/siteassets/documents/ahka_reportcard_2015_web.pdf (Accessed: 13 September 2016).
  8. Australia, P.C. of (2016) National walk safely to school day. Available at: http://www.walk.com.au/WSTSD/ (Accessed: 29 August 2016).
  9. Nguyen, T., Handon, M., Nguyen, C., Diluzio, D. and Nguyen, N. (2014) THE 2014 UNITED STATES REPORT CARD ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY FOR CHILDREN & YOUTH. Available at: http://www.physicalactivityplan.org/reportcard/NationalReportCard_longform_final%20for%20web.pdf (Accessed: 31 August 2016).
  10. Government, A. (2014) Australia’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines: Tips and ideas for children (5-12 years). Available at: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ti-5-12years (Accessed: 31 August 2016).