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Close collaboration . . .Members of the Beats Study team gather during this week's international symposium in Dunedin. Pictured are (back, from left) Tessa Pocock, Dr Judith Rodda, gordon Wilson, Professer John Spence, Dr Enrique Garcia Bengoechea, (front, from left) Chiew Ching Kek, Dr Jillian Frater, Charlotte Flaherty, Dr Sandra Mandic, Dr Susan Sandretto, and Dr Christina Ergler. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

A comprehensive study of activity levels and transport to school among Dunedin teenagers is to be extended over the next five years.

The multidisciplinary Beats (Built Environment and Active Transport to School) Study, led by University of Otago academic Dr Sandy Mandic has hosted 85 researchers from around the world this week in an international symposium.

At a public lecture on Tuesday night, Dr Mandic announced that the Beats Study team, which had studied 1780 secondary school pupils and 365 parents in the past three years, was designing two extensions to the project.

Beats-2 will build on the original Dunedin research, returning to schools from 2019 to 2021 to examine the effects of new built cycling infrastructure on teenagers’ transport habits.

Beats-R will examine active transport to school among adolescents in rural Otago, and will run from 2018 to 2020.

“Basically, we are planning a five-year follow-up project, to resurvey the high schools in relation to the new cycle infrastructure being built,” Dr Mandic said.

The researchers were in the design phase and were applying for funding for the research, she said.

The Beats Study has recently released a four-year progress report, giving an overview of its major results on a range of topics, including transport to school, perceptions of cycling versus walking, and who makes the decisions.

This showed few Dunedin adolescents met recommended health behaviour guidelines, yet two-thirds had a healthy weight.

It also showed that half of Dunedin high school pupils are driven to and from school, while 30% walked and just 1.5% rode a bicycle.

“We found that cycling to school was less common and perceived as less safe,” Dr Mandic said.

“Therefore, more supportive physical and social environments are needed to promote cycling to school.”

The choice of schools also had a significant bearing on teenagers’ methods of getting to school.

The study showed that, without school zoning, only half of Dunedin adolescents enrolled in the closest school to their homes.

Adolescents attending their closest school had five times higher rates of active transport than those who went to more distant schools.

Dr Mandic paid tribute to the support of the Dunedin Secondary Schools Partnership in ensuring all 12 Dunedin high schools took part in the study – a very rare 100% recruitment rate.