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Mary K. Wolfe, Noreen C. McDonald
Journal of Physical Activity and Health 13(9): 970-979


Background: Independent travel among youth has diminished and rates of obesity have increased. It remains empirically unclear what factors influence the degree to which parents allow, or even enable, their children to be independently mobile. We analyze the association between parental perceptions of the social environment and the degree of independent mobility among children.

Methods: Surveys were conducted with 305 parents of 10- to 14-year-olds in the Bay Area during 2006 and 2007. The social environment was measured with scales assessing parental perceptions of child-centered social control, intergenerational closure, social cohesion, and safety from crime and traffic. Independent mobility was measured as a composite variable reflecting the degree to which a child is allowed to do the following without adult accompaniment: travel to neighborhood destinations, walk around the neighborhood, cross main roads, and ride transit.

Results: We find modest evidence of an association between parental perceptions of social cohesion and safety from traffic and independent mobility outcomes among children. Age is positively associated with increased independent mobility and Hispanic children experience greater restrictions on independent mobility.

Conclusions: Interventions aimed at increasing physical activity among children through greater independent mobility should include neighborhood-level efforts to grow social cohesion and trust.

Keywords: active transport; adolescent; physical activity; youth.