08 SES 13 JS, Making Links Between Health, Physical Activity and Wellbeing
Joint Paper Session NW 08 and NW 18
Following the 2017 presentation about the children perspective on Active Cities (Edward, Tsouros-WHO Europe, 2008; Borgogni, 2012; SUSTRANS, 2015) this paper presents the results of the research-intervention about active mobility to school and a conceptual model originating from the discussion of the results.
The research had been carried out in Cassino (Lazio Region, Italy) and was based on a walk to school intervention (named Pedibus in Italy).
The research hypothesis was that the activation and the implementation of a walk to school action, jointly with teachers’ training and parents’ sensitization, could influence children active mobility and lifestyles.
How a community-based action promoted by the university involving children, parents, teachers, local associations, the municipality, could influence children behaviors in a setting, as showed in previous researches (Pompili, Borgogni, 2013; Arduini, Borgogni, Capelli, 2016), oriented to inactive lifestyles and to children’s dependency?
According to comparative researches, children in Italy are about three to four years behind the first-ranked countries on their independent mobility (Shaw et al., 2015): only the 7% of the children aged 7-11 are autonomous (Renzi, Prisco, Tonucci, 2014) and the 28% (aged 8-11) are active (OKkio alla Salute-ISS, 2017) on the route to school. These data are also factors influencing the low rate of moderate and vigorous physical activity (PA) among the Italian 11 years old children (WHO-Europe, 2016) and aerobic PA among adolescents (Eurostat, 2017).
Referring to the overall Active City approach, the interpretation and discussion of the results opened the way to the development of a conceptual model aiming to embrace the typologies of PA performed by children considered from the point of view of their independent mobility and autonomy. Focusing on health, walking to school, going autonomously to meet friends or for small errands, playing, are routine actions greatly contributing to reach the PA recommendations; focusing on education, the same activities are crucial to learn competences and the written and unwritten intrinsic rules of the urban environment; thinking at social aspects, they allow children to create acquaintanceships and friendships building relationships without adults’ supervision.
Reflecting on the Ecological model of health behaviors (Sallis et al., 2006), it is evident that organized physical activity or sport are merely included in the Active recreation and Occupational activities domains and, within them, few are the settings in which educators or coaches lead or train groups or individuals (PE classes, walk to school programs, sport, fitness courses). Therefore, there is plenty of available time, mostly for commuting, leisure or play, and venues, predominantly public spaces, in which to deploy – not organized or supervised – PA. Regarding children, these times and spaces are strictly linked, in general, with their autonomy, and, in particular, with their independent mobility and roaming that, in Italy, entail a somehow unique situation. Due to legal limitations, in fact, it is not permitted for a child under 14 to roam independently (under questioning and actually applied until primary school). These normative restrictions have been incorporated in the primary schools’ regulations leading to an overall prohibition to exit school without being picked-up by an adult. This implies, for the outdoor education, to play an impossible game caused by the negation of the learning value of the public space, of the risk as pedagogic dispositif (Massa, 1989; Farné, Agostini, 2014) and, eventually, the disappearance of the childhood from the public space.
The 3years longitudinal research was based on a mixed-method approach (Creswell, 2014) involved the pupils attending the three public primary schools in Cassino and their parents. A questionnaire on the children autonomy validated by the Italian National Research Center (CNR-Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies) had been used as main research tool and administered before and after the intervention to third, fourth, and fifth grade students (aged 8-11; mean age 9,2). The students also received a questionnaire for their parents: 693/741/528 were returned by children and 574/597/422 by parents in 2015/2016/2017 (only two schools in 2017). The questionnaire was composed by two main sections: socio-demographic data, children's autonomy and independent mobility; the parents' questionnaire was integrated by sections on sport participation and the use of ICT-devices and internet. Focus groups (n=09) have been administered to teachers (n=2), parents (n=2) and pupils (n=5). Direct observations (n=8) of the area around the intervention school were carried out during school entrance and exit times. The intervention was centred at the beginning (2015, following previous experiences) on a Pedibus in two out of three schools. In the second year, the action had been made more frequent in the last part of the school year. In the third year, since spring 2017, the action was made once a week in the school of intervention for all the participating students (mean attendance n=83); moreover, a group of children (n=10) had been participating twice-weekly until the end of the school. The latter group also attended the focus groups aimed to design a smartphone application to motivate physical activity in children. To build the conceptual model, an interdisciplinary review has been carried out on the fields of physical activity, pedagogy, public health, town planning, mobility, environmental psychology, and urban sociology.
According to the results of the parents' pre-intervention questionnaire, the 75,3% go to school by car, the 7,4% by school-bus, the 17,3% in active way. Only the 3,4% go to school independently. The motivations not to allow children independent mobility are: distance (55,3%), traffic dangers (17,8%), and strangers' dangers (15,6%). In the extra-school hours, the 26,6% use the bicycle near home and the 12,8% go to friends' homes alone. Teachers' focus groups emphasized the normative restrictions and the parents' overcontrol in the decrease of children's autonomy. Parents' focus groups highlighted the influence of the overrepresentation of the dangers triggered by media. School setting and the lack of community-based planning seem, definitively, to influence in a negative way children independent mobility and their autonomy. The post-intervention results show a slight increase of the active mobility (1%/3%, outward/return) in the intervention school and a decrease (2%/3% outward/return) in the control school. Originating from the discussion of the results, a conceptual model based on the classification of PA as independent or non-independent has been drawn: the first group of PA behaviors is associated with children's autonomy to roam in the public space; the second assembles activities performed when escorted by adults for mobility or leisure purposes; the third is related with sport, leisure or educational activities, in and out school time, organized and taught by adults. The first two groups challenge the adults' lifestyles and urban mobility culture. According to the model, large part of PA in children should be considered an epiphenomenon of their independent mobility and roaming opportunities in the public space. Consequently, from a decision-making viewpoint, to enhance children's PA, the focus should be directed to all the "realms" of experience of the children taking into account the cultural, educational, legislative determinants of PA.
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