Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Parental Involvement in Active Transport to School Initiatives: A Multi-Site Case Study

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Parental Involvement in Active Transport to School Initiatives: A Multi-Site Case Study

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: Increasing physical activity in youth is a recommended approach to curbing the childhood obesity epidemic. One way to help increase children's daily activity is to promote active transportation to and from school (ATS). Purpose: The purpose of this case study was to explore parental perception of, and participation in, ATS initiatives. Methods: This study is part of a larger project on ATS initiatives conducted by the Physical Activity Policy Research Network. Sixty-nine key informants, including 10 parents, were interviewed at nine diverse elementary schools being studied for their ATS policies. A standard interview guide was used. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed. Results: Analysis revealed that parental support was a necessary component for ATS success. The parents' roles varied greatly. Most parents chose to become involved in ATS for a specific reason (e.g., promoting health). The parents and other key informants interviewed expressed participation benefits such as promoting healthy behaviors, increasing social opportunities, promoting neighborhood awareness, and fostering community improvement. Barriers to participation included lack of time, language barriers, and preference for auto travel. Parents also had safety concerns about ATS. Discussion: Parents can be valuable resources in school ATS programs, as noted by parents and key informants. Their level of involvement can vary from coordinating a program to leading a walking group; whatever the case, parental participation facilitates a successful initiative. Translation to Health Education Practice: AT$ initiatives provide a way for parents to become involved in a school program that has personal health, social, and community benefits.

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BACKGROUND

Opportunities for children to be physically active are becoming scarce. With the reduction of physical education and recess programs in schools (1,2) and the increasing popularity of sedentary activities such as television viewing and videogames, children are becoming less physically active. (3) Moreover, research shows that childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. The prevalence of obesity in children, defined as a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile for age and gender, has nearly quadrupled over the past 30 years. (4) Similarly, the prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents has increased from 11% to 16%. (5) Physical inactivity contributes to these conditions. Despite evidence supporting the benefits of physical activity, (6,7) however, 64% of high school students do not meet recommended physical activity guidelines, and 10% are sedentary? Although 65 percent of adolescents participate in adequate levels of vigorous physical activity, the proportion who participate in adequate levels of moderate activity is only 25%. (8)

One strategy that shows promise as a way to increase physical activity among youths is the promotion of active modes of transportation (e.g., walking and bicycling) to and from school. (9) National transportation surveys show that walking and bicycling to school dropped from 41% in 1969 to only 13% in 2001, (10) but efforts are underway across the country to reverse this trend. Programs or initiatives to promote active transport to and from school (ATS) are increasing in number, especially due to national funding from the Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS). This legislation provides funding, for the first time, to state transportation departments to create and administer SRTS programs that allow communities to compete for funding for local SRTS projects. (11) It makes funding available for a wide variety of programs and projects, from building safer street crossings to establishing programs that encourage children and their parents to walk and bicycle safely to school.

Although funding may make some facets of an ATS initiative easier, the initiatives still require collaboration from many different entities. …

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