HEAL awarded CIHR Project Scheme Grant to study Active & Safe Routes to School

HEAL Director, Dr. Jason Gilliland and collaborators received a Project Scheme Grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research to study Active & Safe Routes to School’s School Travel Planning program from 2020 to 2025. The project is called Examining the influence of a school travel planning intervention on children’s travel behaviour, physical activity, and exposure to pollution around their schools. The project will use a longitudinal design to better understand how School Travel Planning can improve children’s health and well-being. The research team includes a strong academic team of researchers, including Matthew Adams from University of Toronto Mississauga, Stephanie Coen from University of Nottingham, Jamie Seabrook from Brescia University College, Trish Tucker from Western University, and Paul Villeneuve from Carlton University. We also have two experienced knowledge-users who will help guide our work, including Kate Berry (Ontario Active School Travel & Green Communities Canada) and Terry Spencer (London District Catholic School Board).

We look forward to working with our research team and numerous community collaborators over the next 5 years!

Lay Abstract: In the past, children mostly walked or biked to school. However, in the last two decades we have seen a worrisome decline in the share of children using these active modes of transportation to get to school. Active school travel contributes to children’s overall physical activity. Given that stemming increasing chronic disease rates is a priority in the Canadian healthcare system, we propose an innovative school- based transportation intervention to build lifelong healthy physical activity habits. A partnership in the St. Thomas-Elgin, Middlesex-London, and Oxford region runs a School Travel Planning (STP) program, which encourages children to use active school travel. We propose to leverage this existing STP program that uses a combination of engineering changes to school neighbourhoods to make it easier to use active modes, education to increase knowledge on how to be safe using active travel, encouragement of active travel, and enforcement to ensure people traveling through the neighbourhood follow the laws of the road. This project will examine how the STP program can improve active school travel, physical activity levels, and reduce air pollution around schools. Students and parents from grades 4-6 at 24 schools will be involved in this study. Twelve schools will receive the intervention, while the other twelve will serve as control schools. The project will use air pollution monitors, parent and child surveys, Global Positioning System tracking devices, physical activity trackers, and self-reported trip diaries to collect data. We will compare changes over time in travel mode choice, physical activity levels, and air pollution between intervention and control schools. We hypothesize that students attending schools involved in the STP program will use more active travel modes, be more active, and have better air quality around school. This research will contribute to improving the effectiveness of STP programs for improving child health across Canada.

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