Faculty of Science

TRansport, Environments and Kids (TREK)

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There are growing concerns about children’s levels of physical activity and increasing levels of overweight and obesity.

Encouraging active transport among children, particularly walking to school, has been identified as one strategy to increase physical activity.

However, the real potential for children to walk to school is unknown, given the design of contemporary neighbourhoods. Furthermore, there is no objective data on the extent to which the urban design surrounding schools hinders or facilitates walking to school.

Thus, the overall aim of this ecological study is to examine the independent effect of the urban design of local neighbourhoods on Years 5 to 7 primary school children using active modes to travel to school and other local destinations, after adjusting for individual and social environmental factors.

The study has six stages:

  1. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the development of a child-pedestrian-specific walkability index for Perth metropolitan public primary schools to facilitate selection of the 12 most walkable and 12 least walkable schools
  2. A cross-sectional survey of Year 5-7 students and their parents (n=2160) attending high and low walkable schools
  3. An audit of the school policy and physical environment to assess how supportive they are to active transport
  4. Geocoding major destinations used by students for sport, recreation, leisure and shopping and using GIS to measure ‘pedestrian route directness’ from home to those destinations and the number and type of roads to be crossed
  5. Data analysis
  6. Report writing

The study will compare the active transport habits of children attending schools located in optimal and less than optimal neighbourhood environments and will compare children’s and parental concerns for traffic safety, with objective measures of the neighbourhood environment. The study is unique because:

  • It will develop a GIS-based child-pedestrian-specific walkability index that takes into account exposure to traffic, as well as the density of the neighbourhood and connectivity of the pedestrian network
  • It is designed to maximize the variability between neighbourhood environments by selecting high and low walkable schools
  • It involves a partnership with a multi-sector committee (Walking WA) which will ensure that the study results will be translated into policy and practice
  • It will add to a very limited body of knowledge about the urban design factors that influence physical activity in children.


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