They’ll never walk alone? The multiple settings of children’s active transportation and independent mobility

Anna Broberg

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


    Interest towards children's mobility patterns has increased due to the health risks related to sedentary lifestyles and increasing obesity levels. While there are indications that the participation of Finnish children and youth in structured exercise has increased, the level of unstructured physical activity, such as walking and cycling for transportation and playing outdoors, has decreased. The decreasing activity levels of children and youth call for a better understanding of the possibilities of different environments to promote physical activity. This thesis examines the mobility behaviours of children and youth in two urban areas of Finland. The main objective is to identify the characteristics of the built environment which promote children's independent mobility and active transportation. Concurrently, I develop new ways of conceptualizing and operationalizing the environment that matters for children's mobility outcomes. Understanding the multiple ways in which the elements of the built environment matter for children's active living requires a specific place-based methodology. In this thesis, an Internet-based softGIS method was used to collect data from children and youth on their mobility during school journeys as well as on their way to the places meaningful to them. My findings show that distance and consequently the density of the built environment are the most crucial elements of environment for children's mobility. Moderately dense urban environments promote children's independence and activity, whereas the places in the densest urban cores are reached in the company of adults using passive transport modes. However, the urban cores offer multitude of interesting things to experience. I conclude that planning and the promotion of physical activity should not concentrate exclusively on some specific journeys or on places specially designed for children and youth. Instead, the whole environment should be considered as a potentially meaningful setting for activities. Based on these findings, new urban areas should be connected to the existing urban structure, and good public transportation links should be developed to allow for independent mobility. In future research, emphasis should be given to the places children frequent, and the environment around these places. Independent mobility should be studied in line with transport mode when we are interested in physical activity during transportation. Moreover, distance should always be taken into account when analysing the associations between environment and mobility.
    Translated title of the contributionLasten ja nuorten itsenäisen ja aktiivisen liikkumisen monet ympäristöt
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor's degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Aalto University
    • Kyttä, Marketta, Supervising Professor
    • Kyttä, Marketta, Thesis Advisor
    Print ISBNs978-952-60-6284-6
    Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6285-3
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


    • independent mobility
    • active transportation
    • built environment
    • child-friendly environment
    • active living research
    • GIS
    • softGIS
    • children
    • youth

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