Pupil transport habits to be re-surveyed

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The transport habits of Dunedin adolescents will be studied against the backdrop of the city’s changing infrastructure as the Beats study ramps up.

This week, the University of Otago’s Active Living Laboratory, which runs the Beats study (Built Environments and Active Transport to School), welcomed a $1.2million grant from the Health Research Council over the next three years.

Beats study lead researcher Associate Prof Sandy Mandic, speaking by phone from sabbatical in Spain, said the funding announcement was “perfect timing” for the project.

The new funding will support a Beats natural experiment study across Dunedin city, with all 12 high schools to be re-surveyed to ascertain whether the transport habits of pupils have changed.

Half of the schools had experienced cycling and pedestrian infrastructure development in their neighbourhoods since the first survey was done.

“This funding will allow us to examine the impact of those changes on the active transport-to-school behaviours in adolescents,” Prof Mandic said.

“Active transport to school is a convenient way to integrate physical activity into everyday life, offering a way to reduce the global health issues of physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles among adolescents.”

Established in 2014, the original Beats study took an in-depth look at the transport habits of 1780 Dunedin high school pupils.

Researchers from the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences found half of Dunedin adolescents were driven to and from school, 30% walked, and just 1.5% rode a bike.

In addition, less than one-fifth of pupils met physical activity guidelines (60min per day), about one quarter met nutrition guidelines and, on average, young people spent five hours per day on sedentary screen time – watching television, computer use, and playing games.

Last year, a team of researchers fanned out across rural and central Otago to study the behaviour of rural adolescents in the Beats study.

With Prof Mandic away on sabbatical until November, research work on the Beats natural experiment study will start in the new year, and will involve another large cohort of high school pupils.

In the meantime, experiment project manager Kim King would work on planning the experiment, while analysis of data from the rural study continued.

Prof Mandic said the findings of the Beats natural experiment study, would help to “inform planning of future built environment and active transport interventions”.

A large, multidisciplinary team of researchers will be involved in the Beatsnatural experiment, funded by the Health Research Council grant.

They include University of Otago academics Prof Mandic, Associate Prof Antoni Moore, Dr Christina Ergler, Dr Kirsten Coppell, Dr Susan Sandretto, Associate Prof Michael Keall (Wellington), along with Dr Anna Rolleston (University of Waikato), and overseas researchers Dr Enrique Garcia Bengoechea (University of Limerick, Ireland), Prof John C. Spence (University of Alberta, Canada), and Dr Debbie Hopkins (University of Oxford).