Science and Technology

The TRavel, Environment and Kids (TREK) Study: 15 years on

This project aims to update and expand the TRavel, Environment and Kids study (TREK) conducted in Perth in 2005. It will investigate school walkability, parent- and student-reported individual, social and environmental factors influencing school transport modes, and latent demand for walking and cycling to school.

Fewer Australian children walk and bike ride to school than ever before. Increasing the prevalence of active school transport is a public health priority and would result in numerous health, environmental, and economic benefits. In Perth, WA, the declining rate of active school transport has been identified as a problem requiring multiple government agency responses to reverse the decline.

Schools and neighbourhoods with the greatest need for connectivity improvements, safety treatments and programs to address parental concerns, will be identified, as well as any other insights for increasing the rates of walking and riding to school.

Participants

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Project background

Over the past 40 years the national rate of active travel to school has declined significantly1. In Perth, the rate is as low as 20%2 and one half of children travel to school by car despite living less than one-kilometre away3.

This decline in active school transport (AST) impacts the economy, the transport network, and children’s health. For example, children who use passive forms of transportation to school (i.e. vehicles), are less likely to meet physical activity guidelines 4,5. Lack of physical activity incurs significant costs to the Western Australian health system annually sedentary6.

In addition to health costs, the annual economic cost of car travel to school in Perth is estimated at over $186 million, consisting of travel time, vehicle operating costs and road crashes7. Thus, increasing the AST habits of children is important to improve the physical activity levels of children and reduce the economic burden associated with motorised school trips.

In 2005, the research team conducted the Transport, Environment, and Kids (TREK) project to investigate the role of the built environment on children’s AST. As part of the project, the walkability (i.e., street connectivity and road traffic volume) surrounding 2 kilometres of all public primary schools in Perth was assessed using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology8. A cross-sectional survey was then conducted within the least (n=12) and most (n=12) walkable primary schools to investigate student and parent travel habits and attitudes.

The TREK project found a strong latent demand for AST with over 50 percent of students wanting to regularly walk and cycle to school. However, only 28 percent of students regularly walked to school and less than 20 percent regularly cycled to school. The walkability of the school neighbourhood was found to be a significant correlate of AST; children were 7.4% more likely to regularly use AST if they attended a school located in a highly walkable neighbourhood (i.e., high street connectivity and low traffic volume) compared to a low walkable neighbourhood9.

To inform built environment and behavioural interventions to improve children’s AST in Perth, further research investigating the current built environment around all schools (i.e., not just primary schools) as well as the current prevalence, latent demand, perceptions and attitudes towards AST by primary and secondary schoolchildren has been called for by the WA Department of Transport.

The research team at the Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Western Australia will work in partnership with the WA Department of Transport to conduct an expanded version of the original TREK project, providing much needed up-to-date evidence to underpin structural and behavioural interventions to increase children’s AST in Perth.

Project objectives

The overall aim of this project is to create a robust evidence base to inform future AST interventions which are specific to the Perth context. The project will identify Perth schools and neighbourhoods with the greatest need for pedestrian and shared path connectivity improvements, safety treatments (such as children’s crossings in high traffic areas) and programs to address parental- and child-perceived barriers to AST.

The objectives of the research are to:

  1. Assess the walkability of the immediate environment surrounding all Perth schools (n=655*) in 2021 and investigate any differences in walkability by school socioeconomic status (i.e., ICSEA score) and school type (i.e. primary, secondary and K-12).
  2. Identify specific hotspots of safety concerns near primary and secondary schools that are impacting AST.
  3. Investigate AST prevalence, latent demand for AST, barriers of AST (including parental/child perceived safety concerns), enablers of AST and attitudes towards AST in primary and secondary school-aged children attending Perth schools located in the most and least walkable school neighbourhoods; and investigate changes in these factors over time (2007 vs 2021).

*excluding the education support centres as they are co-located at schools that will be analysed

Footnotes

1. Active Healthy Kids Australia. The Road Less Travelled: Progress Report Card on Active Transport for Children and Young People, 2015.
2. WA Department of Transport, The Declining Rate of Walking and Cycling to School in Perth, 2021.
3. ibid.
4. Faulkner, Guy E. J., Ron N. Buliung, Parminder K. Flora, and Caroline Fusco. Active School Transport, Physical Activity Levels and Body Weight of Children and Youth: A Systematic Review. Preventive Medicine 48, no. 1 (January 2009): 3–8.
5. Larouche, Richard, Travis John Saunders, Guy Edward John Faulkner, Rachel Colley, and Mark Tremblay. Associations between Active School Transport and Physical Activity, Body Composition, and Cardiovascular Fitness: A Systematic Review of 68 Studies. Journal of Physical Activity & Health 11, no. 1 (January 2014): 206–27.
6. WA Department of Health, The burden and cost of excess body mass in Western Australian adults and children, 2020.
7. WA Department of Transport, op. cit.
8. Trapp, Georgina S. A., Billie Giles-Corti, Terri Pikora, Max Bulsara, Gavin R. McCormack, and Anna Timperio. The TRavel, Environment, and Kids (TREK) Project: Preliminary Findings Report. The University of Western Australia, 2010.
9. Giles-Corti, Billie, Gina Wood, Terri Pikora, Vincent Learnihan, Max Bulsara, Kimberly Van Niel, Anna Timperio, Gavin McCormack, and Karen Villanueva. School Site and the Potential to Walk to School: The Impact of Street Connectivity and Traffic Exposure in School Neighborhoods. Health & Place, Geographies of Care, 17, no. 2 (1 March 2011): 545–50.

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