Walking and cycling to and from schools can make valuable contributions to students’ physical activity and health, according to a recent review of the scientific evidence.

For the attention of: School leaders (primary & secondary schools); local government education; planning, and health officers.

The problem: International evidence shows that many European children and adolescents fail to meet international physical activity recommended levels, placing them at risk of several non-communicable diseases, now and in later life. Policy makers and practitioners are searching for simple, accessible, and inexpensive population-level strategies that can be integrated into students’ daily routines. Active forms of travelling to and from schools seems a plausible response to children’s inactivity, although it is gradually disappearing in some European countries.

What we did and why: A group of researchers and practitioners from across Europe have been developing the concept of an ‘Active School’, where physical activity is embedded into different aspects of school life, including lessons, recess, and homework. Active Transport seems to fit well within this approach as a simple, accessible, and inexpensive setting for daily activity. Before developing guidance and materials to support Active Transport, however, we wanted to find out what had already be learned from earlier studies. So, we carried out a review of the published research from Europe.

What our study adds: This is the first European review of the physical activity benefits of Active Transport to and from schools:

  • It offers an up-to-date account of what is known about Active Transport in Europe

  • It uses a specially designed reviewing method that offer a comprehensive, yet flexible collection of evidence

Implications for city policy and practice: It is clear that children’s health is suffering due to a lack of opportunities for physical activity in cities and principalities. We recommend that:

  • City planners, educationalists, and health professionals need to work together to create and maintain spaces and routes for safe Active Transport.

  • Walking and cycling should be made the most desirable and easiest options when children and their parents decide about the travel patterns to and from schools.

For further information:

A guide for city leaders: Design to move

Healthy and Physically Active Schools in Europe (HEPAS): website

Full research article: Active transport to school and health-enhancing physical activity: a rapid review of European evidence by Richard Peter Bailey, Jana Vašíčková, Rachel Payne, Andreu Raya Demidoff and Claude Scheuer.