Study checks rural pupils’ transport methods to school

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Rural results shared . . . Members of the University of Otago School of Physical Education Beats rural study team gather at Friday's symposium. Pictured are (back, from left) Gavin Kidd, Long Chen, Charlotte Flaherty, Dr Anna Rolleston, Associate Prof Sandra Mandic, Dr Susan Sandretto, Dr Kirsten Coppell, Associate Prof Antoni Moore, (front, from left) Olivia Eyles, Jessica Calverley, Brittany White, Kimberley King and Tessa Pocock. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

The results of a detailed study of the activity levels and transport habits of 1000 adolescents across rural Otago and Southland have been revealed.

Academics and the public gathered at the University of Otago School of Physical Education, Sport, and Exercise Sciences on Friday to discuss the Beats (Built Environment and Active Transport to School) rural study, which included 14 presentations of data analyses.

The Beats rural study team, led by Assoc Prof Sandra Mandic, gathered data from pupils at 11 secondary schools in rural Otago earlier this year.

The study followed on from the Beats Dunedin study, which examined the transportation habits of 1780 Dunedin high school pupils in 2014-15.

The topics studied included rural adolescents’ perceptions of walking versus cycling to school, attitudes to cycle skills training, and perceptions of school neighbourhoods.

Results showed the isolation of many of Otago’s rural schools had a major influence on pupils’ transport methods, meaning rural pupils travelling long distances could be less active than their urban counterparts, Prof Mandic said.

The Beats rural study was similar to the Dunedin study, and looked at not only cycling to school but also the effects of greater travel distances in a rural setting, she said.

The data showed about 30% of rural adolescents were using active transport, while 55% used motorised transport regularly, and about 15% used a combination of motorised and active.

Most had a bicycle at home, but relatively few used it – usually due to safety concerns, Prof Mandic said.

Data analysis completed by masters student Jessica Calverley, which examined the transport used by adolescents living less than 4.8km from school [and therefore not eligible for the school bus], showed that overall 48% walked and 17% cycled to school regularly.

Walking was perceived as safe by 92% of adolescents, and cycling was perceived as safe by 87%, while walking was felt to be more pleasant by 62% and offered greater opportunities to socialise.

Ms Calverley concluded that distinct interventions were required to promote walking versus cycling to school.

Data analysis by research assistant Charlotte Flaherty showed cycle skills training was regarded as a good option by about 40% of adolescents and 72% of parents.

Ms Flaherty concluded the delivery of cycle skills training should be explored for adolescents in rural areas.

Honours student Brittany White studied perceptions of school neighbourhoods in small-to-medium urban areas versus rural settlements.

This showed that urbanised areas had more road crossings, higher traffic volumes, higher residential density, and were less walkable than rural areas.

The Beats study team is hoping to use the results of the Beats rural study to develop a new project aimed at empowering adolescents to encourage active transport and healthy lifestyles in their communities.

planning the scheme is being led by research assistant Kimberley King and could include roadshows, workshops, student-led projects and symposia.

The Beats study team has applied to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment for funding, and is awaiting a response.

The schools surveyed in the Beats Rural study were Blue Mountain College, Cromwell College, Lawrence Area School, Maniototo Area School, Mt Aspiring College, Roxburgh Area School, South Otago High School, St Kevin’s College, Catlins Area School, Tokomairiro High School and Waitaki Girls’ High School.