Exploring Parental Perceptions of a Walking-School-Bus Initiative in Northern Ontario

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Atrooshi, Darran
Active transportation , School , Walking school bus , Physical activity , Northern Ontario , ATS
Introduction: Active transportation to school (ATS) may be a way to increase children’s physical activity (PA) levels and achieve health related benefits, however only 24% of Canadian children use active transportation as a mode to travel to and from school (Gray et al., 2014). A walking-school bus (WSB) is a proposed strategy that can afford students a safe, active method of travel to school (Kearns, Collins, & Neuwelt, 2003). Few studies have examined parental perceptions of a WSB. Given that parents are typically the decision makers in regards to methods of school travel, understanding parent perceived barriers and facilitators to using a WSB is warranted. Purpose: The primary purpose of this thesis study was to explore parental perceptions of a WSB in order to inform an effective messaging and promotional strategy. The secondary purpose was to explore barriers and facilitators related to a WSB/ATS and to explore parent ideas about ways for their children to incorporate active travel into their daily routine. Methods: Parents of students (N=16), from three elementary schools located in Northern Ontario were recruited. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, guided by a social marketing approach (Lee & Kotler, 2011). Inductive and deductive analyses were used to identify emerging themes and to explore product, price, promotion and place barriers and/or facilitators related to a WSB. Alternative ATS strategies were compiled. Results: Parents identified the potential for increased levels of PA and positive social interactions as key facilitators of participating in a WSB. Other key facilitators included the opportunity to be supervised while participating in ATS, and promotion of the WSB through electronic platforms such as social media. However, parents expressed concerns regarding the safety of their children and the reliability of adult supervision of the WSB. Concerns related to extreme weather conditions were also present. Discussion: Findings from this study will be used by the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit to guide WSB interventions and to develop a messaging strategy to promote WSB uptake at the participating schools as a way to enhance ATS among students.
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