Identifying Physical Activity and Built Environment Factors Associated with Children's School Transportation Modes in Hong Kong

Project: Research

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Being sufficiently physically active is important for children. It is associated with a wide range of health benefits such as reduced cardiovascular risk factors, enhanced bone mineral density and improved psychological well-being [1, 2]. The World Health Organization recommends that children be physically active at a moderate or vigorous level for at least 60 minutes each day [3]. Research has concluded that an alarmingly high percentage, approximately 80%, of Hong Kong children currently do not meet this recommendation [4, 5]. Consequently, stimulating children’s physical activity is included in the current health and disease prevention strategies of the Hong Kong government. The trip between home and school is gaining more and more attention as a potential source of physical activity for children [6-8]. Active school transportation in the form of walking or cycling can significantly contribute to the daily recommended physical activity and to the development of an active lifestyle. However, during the last decade, the proportion of walking or cycling to school has steadily declined among children in Hong Kong (from 40% to 29%) [9].The physical environment is believed to be an important factor affecting choices of school transportation mode [10-14]. The majority of Hong Kong children commute to school by walking (29%), private school bus (15%), or public transportation (50%) [9]. Numerous studies have found that children are more likely to walk or cycle to school in neighborhoods with certain environmental characteristics, such as high residential density, proximity to school, and safety from traffic or crime. However, most previous studies have used self-reporting methods to collect transportation modes and routes, which may suffer from recall bias. Another issue is that most studies have been conducted in the USA or European countries, which differ from Hong Kong in typical urban layouts and school transportation modes. Little is known about the physical environment factors that are associated with walking or cycling to school in the Hong Kong context or about the contribution of school trips via private school bus and public transportation to daily physical activity.Combining GPS and accelerometer data provides a unique opportunity to address these two gaps. It can objectively quantify school trip characteristics such as distance, actual route, and physical activity level from the school trip. This study will follow 600 14-15-year-old students in 24 public secondary schools in Hong Kong. Non-public schools will be excluded because they attract a large proportion of students beyond the acceptable walking/cycling distance. Guided by the socio-ecological model, comprehensive data collection methods will be used to measure (1) the school-, neighborhood- and route-level environmental characteristics; (2) individual, household and school policy data; and (3) individual route and physical activity data. Logistic regression models will be used to investigate the association of environmental characteristics with different transportation modes after adjustment for individual, household, and school policy characteristics.This study is significant for several reasons. Theoretically, the GPS method will address the limitations of recall bias in prior studies. The study will also identify environmental factors that support active school transportation and identify the physical activity occurring during school trips by walking/cycling, private school bus, or public transportation in Hong Kong. Politically, the results of this study will help the HongKong government to optimize its environmental policies aimed at stimulating physical activity among children. Practically, this work will help urban planners and designers to create an activity-friendly urban environment. This work will also promote the physical activity and quality of life of children and thereby reduce the potential healthcare costs imposed on society.


Project number9042444
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1722/06/20

    Research areas

  • urban design , neighborhood design , spatial analysis , ,