The physical environment and health-enhancing activity during the school commute: global positioning system, geographical information systems and accelerometry

  • David McMinn | Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen, School of Medicine and Dentistry, Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom.
  • Nicolas M. Oreskovic Center for Child and Adolescent Health Research and Policy, Massachusetts General Hospital, MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Harvard Medical School, Boston, United States.
  • Matt J. Aitkenhead The James Hutton Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom.
  • Derek W. Johnston School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom.
  • Shemane Murtagh School of Health Professions, University of Brighton, Eastbourne, England, United Kingdom.
  • David A. Rowe 6School of Psychological Sciences and Health, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom.


Active school travel is in decline. An understanding of the potential determinants of health-enhancing physical activity during the school commute may help to inform interventions aimed at reversing these trends. The purpose of this study was to identify the physical environmental factors associated with health-enhancing physical activity during the school commute. Data were collected in 2009 on 166 children commuting home from school in Scotland. Data on location and physical activity were measured using global positioning systems (GPS) and accelerometers, and mapped using geographical information systems (GIS). Multi-level logistic regression models accounting for repeated observations within participants were used to test for associations between each land-use category (road/track/path, other man-made, greenspace, other natural) and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA). Thirty-nine children provided 2,782 matched data points. Over one third (37.1%) of children’s school commute time was spent in MVPA. Children commuted approximately equal amounts of time via natural and man-made land-uses (50.2% and 49.8% respectively). Commuting via road/track/path was associated with increased likelihood of MVPA (Exp(B)=1.23, P <0.05), but this association was not seen for commuting via other manmade land-uses. No association was noted between greenspace use and MVPA, but travelling via other natural land-uses was associated with lower odds of MVPA (Exp(B)=0.32, P <0.05). Children spend equal amounts of time commuting to school via man-made and natural land-uses, yet man-made transportation route infrastructure appears to provide greater opportunities for achieving health-enhancing physical activity levels.



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Original Articles
school travel, physical activity, physical environment, children, global positioning systems, geographical information systems, Scotland.
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How to Cite
McMinn, D., Oreskovic, N. M., Aitkenhead, M. J., Johnston, D. W., Murtagh, S., & Rowe, D. A. (2014). The physical environment and health-enhancing activity during the school commute: global positioning system, geographical information systems and accelerometry. Geospatial Health, 8(2), 569-572.