Does neighbourhood matter for children’s and youths’ physical activity and active transport?

The WHO ranked physical inactivity as the fourth most important non-communicable disease in the world. It is of grave concern that fewer than 1 in 10 young Canadians are meeting health-related activity guidelines. The built environment (city design, transport network) may facilitate children’s and youths’ physical activity, but intervention studies are needed to better inform public health policy and urban planning. I have the rare opportunity to address this gap in knowledge by capitalizing on our team’s close partnership with the City of Vancouver to assess if planned adaptations along the Comox-Helmcken Greenway (downtown) will positively influence children’s and youths’ physical activity.


Hypothesis: Children and youth attending schools in proximity to the Greenway will demonstrate a significant increase (or attenuation of age-related decline) in objectively measured physical activity (with a focus on active transport) compared with counterparts who reside elsewhere.


Specific objectives are to:

  1. Assess whether targeted changes to the built environment along the Greenway positively influence child and youth physical activity overall.
  2. Assess its impact on active transport.
  3. Explore how children, youth and their parents perceive and move within their neighbourhood, how closely perceptions are mirrored in objective assessments of the BE, and how barriers and facilitators to outdoor activity, active transport to school and other destinations conspire with intrapersonal and socio-cultural factors to influence behaviour.

For this natural experiment, I will utilize a non-equivalent control group design (intervention-vs. matched comparison schools). Building upon my successful pilot (Oct. ‘12), all measurements will be school- and class-based as preferred and approved by the Vancouver School Board (July 2012). Baseline assessments will be conducted in summer ‘13, and post-intervention assessments in summer ‘14 (depending on City’s timelines). I will use a variety of state-of-the art measurement and analyses tools, including: accelerometry and global positioning systems (when and where are children and youth active), Geographic Information Systems (ArcGIS, Esri; objective environment assessments), and a host of complimentary questionnaire data, including participant and parents’ perceptions, as well as their own physical activity.


This project has the potential to influence urban planning toward mobility-friendly design for young people.