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Abstract

Background: Children's active commuting to school, i.e. walking or cycling to school, was associated with greater moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, although studies among ethnic minorities are sparse. Objectives: Among a low-income, ethnic minority sample of fourth grade students from eight public schools, we examined (1) correlates of active commuting to school and (2) the relationship between active commuting to school and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of baseline measurements from a sample of participants (n=149) aged 9-12 years from a walk to school intervention study in Houston, Texas. The primary outcome was the weekly rate of active commuting to school. Daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, measured by accelerometers, was a secondary outcome. Child self-efficacy (alpha=0.75), parent self-efficacy (alpha=0.88), and parent outcome expectations (alpha=0.78) were independent variables. Participant characteristics (age, gender, race/ethnicity, distance from home to school, acculturation, and BMI percentile) were independent sociodemographic variables. We used mixed-model regression analyses to account for clustering by school and a stepwise procedure with backward elimination of non-significant interactions and covariates to identify significant moderators and predictors. School-level observations of student pedestrians were assessed and compared using chi-square tests of independence. Results: Among our sample, which was 61.7% Latino, the overall rate of active commuting to school was 43%. In the mixed model for active commuting to school, parent self-efficacy (std. beta = 0.18, p=0.018) and age (std. beta = 0.18, p=0.018) were positively related. Latino students had lower rates of active commuting to school than non-Latinos ( 16.5%, p=0.040). Distance from home to school was inversely related to active commuting to school (std. beta = 0.29, p<0.001). In the mixed model for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, active commuting to school was positively associated (std. beta = 0.31, p <0.001). Among the Latino subsample, child acculturation was negatively associated with active commuting to school (std. beta = -0.23, p=0.01). With regard to school-level pedestrian safety observations, 37% of students stopped at the curb and 2.6% looked left-right-left before crossing the street. Conclusion: Although still below national goals, the rate of active commuting was relatively high, while the rate of some pedestrian safety behaviors was low among this low-income, ethnic minority population. Programs and policies to encourage safe active commuting to school are warranted and should consider the influence of parents, acculturation, and ethnicity.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the children, staff, principals, and teachers of the Houston Independent School District who participated in this study. This study was funded, in part, by a grant from the Active Living Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (#63773; PI: JAM), the National Cancer Institute (1R21CA133418; PI: JAM), and the Harris County Hospital District Foundation Children's Health Fund (2008-2009; PI: JAM). The first author was supported by the National Cancer Institute (1K07CA131178; PI: JAM). Additionally, this work is a publication of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA/ARS) Children's Nutrition Research Center, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, and was also funded with federal funds from the USDA/ARS under Cooperative Agreement No. 58-6250-6001. The funding agencies had no role in the design, collection, analysis, interpretation of data, writing of the manuscript, or decision to submit the manuscript for publication. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the funding agencies or Baylor College of Medicine, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement from the funding agencies, the USDA, or Baylor College of Medicine.