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Active Transportation and Adolescents’ Health

The Canadian Health Measures Survey

      Background

      Active transportation (AT; e.g., walking and cycling) is increasingly promoted to increase youth physical activity (PA). Most previous research focused solely on school trips, and associations among AT and cardiovascular risk factors have seldom been examined in adolescents.

      Purpose

      To address these important research gaps using data from the nationally representative 2007–2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey.

      Methods

      A total of 1,016 adolescents aged 12–19 years reported their weekly time spent utilitarian walking and cycling, and wore an Actical accelerometer for 7 days. They underwent a series of physical tests (measures of fitness, body composition, blood pressure, and blood sampling) following standardized protocols. In 2013, differences in PA and health-related outcomes across levels of walking and cycling were assessed with ANCOVA analyses adjusted for age, gender, parental education, and usual daily PA.

      Results

      Greater walking and cycling time was associated with higher moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA). Compared to adolescents reporting walking 1–5 hours/week, those reporting <1 hour/week had lower waist circumference and total cholesterol/high-density lipoprotein (HDL) ratio and higher glycohemoglobin; those reporting >5 hours/week had better grip strength, lower total cholesterol, and total cholesterol/HDL ratio. Compared to adolescents reporting no cycling, those reporting ≥1 hour/week accumulated more light PA, had greater aerobic fitness, and lower BMI, waist circumference, and total cholesterol/HDL ratio; those who reported cycling <1 hour/week had lower total cholesterol.

      Conclusions

      Utilitarian walking and cycling were associated with higher daily MVPA in youth. Cycling was associated with a more consistent pattern of health benefits than walking.
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