Perceived 'stranger danger' and lack of green spaces put off children from walking more, suggests research published ahead of print in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The research team surveyed six primary schools in Birmingham, UK, located in a cross section of areas in and around the city.
In all, the responses of 473 children between the ages of 9 and 11 were collected on the grounds that lifelong patterns of physical activity are established at around this age.
The survey covered questions about how often the child had walked in the previous week, their perceptions of the local environment, and their individual preferences for modes of travel. A smaller group of parents (191) responded to questions about car ownership and family matters, including ethnicity.
Children who made more than the average 20 trips by foot in the previous week were classified as ‘high’ walkers, and comprised just over 40% of the sample
Those who walked less than this were classified as ‘low’ walkers and comprised well over half of the sample (58%).
There was no difference between the sexes, but higher numbers of children of black and minority ethnicities were classified as ‘low’ walkers. Those whose families owned at least one car also tended to walk less.
Only a third of children felt that heavy traffic made the local roads dangerous. Furthermore, this view did not deter children from walking.
More of those who were classified as high walkers perceived the neighbourhood to be full of traffic.
Almost two thirds of children and over three quarters of parents expressed anxiety about ‘stranger danger.’
And children classified as low walkers were more likely to worry about strangers when out alone, to claim that there were insufficient local parks and sports grounds, and to prefer travelling by bus or car.
"Our findings suggest that perceptions of the local environment are related to walking levels in children," conclude the authors, adding that walking is a convenient way of boosting exercise levels and tackling the rising tide of childhood obesity.
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