Children, Travel, Health and the Built Environment
“CATCH” Project – Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP1094495)
Research Team: at Curtin – Prof Carey Curtis (leader); Chris Armit, Courtney Babb, Oscar Thomson; in collaboration with: Assoc. Prof Matthew Burke at Griffith University; Dr. Mitch Duncan ; Prof. Carolyn Whitzman at University of Melbourne; Dr. Paul Tranter at University of New South Wales (ADFA at Canberra).
This project represents the first national study in Australia of children’s behaviours in relation to their built and social environments. The significance of this research is in the provision of a national picture of children’s mobility and health. The findings, which support previous research in North America and Europe, raise significant concerns in relation to environmental sustainability and health.
The research examines the independent mobility and active travel of a sample of Australian children aged 10-13 in a variety of settings (inner suburb, middle/outer suburb, regional town). Three hundred seventy-five children aged 10-13 were recruited to participate, drawn from nine primary schools in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Rockhampton selected from sites in inner, middle and outer suburbs and a regional town. Survey instruments collected data for children on travel behaviour, attitudes (written and visual survey) and health metrics. Parents’ attitudes were also surveyed.
To date we have found that while the built environment (specifically distance from school and its relationship with density) was associated with more active travel, parental attitudes play a decisive role. Children with a high share of active travel are more likely to have parents with a positive attitude to children’s independent mobility. Conversely, parents who placed most restriction on their children’s independent mobility were most likely to drive them, and active modes were least likely to feature in their children’s travel patterns.
In all residential environments children’s dominant mode of travel is by car, followed by walking. New outer suburban estates designed with improved pedestrian infrastructure to facilitate walking have not succeeded in the delivery of higher rates of children’s active travel. Large school catchment sizes put many children beyond reasonable walking distance. Parent’s busy schedules and longer distances to work are also associated with a higher degree of chauffeuring of children.
An in-depth study of Perth children found that active travel was children’s preferred mode, but this was not reflected in the majority of children’s actual travel to school.
In terms of children’s social connectedness to their spatial, social and civic place, the findings illuminate differences among children by residential environment. A larger proportion of middle and outer suburban children report never playing outside compared to inner urban and regional based children, but it is also evident that a slightly larger proportion of children in the two former locations play outside 5 or more days per week compared to inner urban children.
The project identified the significant economic and environmental costs of the current level of adult accompaniment and supervision of children. Not only are there significant time demands on parents to transport children to school, sport and other locations, but the likely health impacts of this situation on children’s levels of physical activity are a cause for concern. The life worlds and lived experiences of many children are curtailed in problematic ways, with key environmental features that limit or promote independent mobility and safe active travel identified. Importantly, the project also identifies possible strategies for addressing these issues, including strategies that involve children themselves in the planning of their own neighbourhoods.
Babb, C., Robertson, D. and Carey Curtis. 2018. Visualising travel and activity geographies of children’s wellbeing: Three layers of spatial data using mixed methods. In Creagh, R. and McGann, S. 2018. Visual Spatial Enquiry: Diagrams and Metaphors for Architects and Spatial Thinkers. Routledge Research in Architecture Series. Routledge: London.
Babb, C., Olaru, D., Curtis, C., and Robertson, D. 2017. Children’s active travel, local activity spaces and wellbeing: A case study in Perth, WA. Travel Behaviour and Society. Vol 9. 81-94. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tbs.2017.06.002
Babb, C. and Curtis, C. 2015. Institutional practices and planning for walking: a focus on built environment audits. Planning Theory and Practice. 16: 4. 517-534.
Curtis, C., Babb, C. and Olaru, D. 2015. Built environment and children’s travel to school. Transport Policy. 42: 21–33.
Cook A, Whitzman C, Tranter P (forthcoming) Is Citizen Kid an Independent Kid? The relationship between independent mobility and citizenship. Accepted for publication in Journal of Urban Design. Available online at
Cook A (forthcoming) Delving into children’s citizenship. In Tranter P, Freeman C (Eds) Risk, Protection, Provision and Policy. Geographies of Children and Young People, Vol 12, Springer, Singapore
Schoeppe S, Tranter P, Duncan MJ, Curtis C, Carver A, Malone K (in press) Australian children’s independent mobility levels: Secondary analyses of cross-sectional data between 1991-2011. Children’s Geographies, in press.
Schoeppe S, Duncan MJ, Badland HM, Oliver M, Browne M (in press) Associations between children’s active travel and levels of physical activity and sedentary behavior. Journal of Transport & Health, in press.
Schoeppe S, Duncan MJ, Badland HM, Alley S, Williams S, Rebar AL, Vandelanotte C (2015) Socio-demographic factors and neighbourhood social cohesion influence adults’ willingness to grant children greater independent mobility: A cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health; 15(690):1-8.
Schoeppe S, Duncan MJ, Badland H, Oliver M, Curtis C (2013) Associations of children’s independent mobility and active travel with physical activity, sedentary behaviour and weight status: A systematic review. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport; 16(4):312-319.
Schoeppe S, Burke M, Duncan M (2014) Recruitment and Retention of Children in Behavioral Health Risk Factor Studies: REACH Strategies. International Journal of Behavioural Medicine; 21:794-803
Schoeppe S, Duncan M, Badland H, Oliver M, Browne M (2014) Associations between children’s independent mobility and physical activity. BMC Public Health; 14:91
Wati K, Tranter P J (2015) Spatial and Socio-Demographic Determinants of South East Queensland Students’ School Cycling. Journal of Transport Geography; 47: 23-36.
Whitzman C, Romero V, Duncan M, Curtis C, Tranter P, Burke M (2010) Links between children’s independent mobility, active transport, physical activity, and obesity, in Waters E, Swinburn B, Uauy R, Seidell J (Eds) Preventing Childhood Obesity: evidence, policy, and practice, Wiley, Blackwell [ISBN 978-1-4051-5889-3 
Whitzman C (2012) Designing Spaces to Give the Street Back to its Citizens. Planning News; 38(10);15-16
Whitzman C, Freeman C (forthcoming) Young voices, vital perspectives: designing with children in Asia-Pacific cities. Accepted for publication as introduction to Special Issue of Journal of Urban Design, available online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13574809.2015.1054695?journalCode=cjud20
Babb C, Burke M, Tranter P (2011) Developing neighbourhood ‘walkability’ indices for children’s active transport. World Planning Schools Congress. Perth (WA): 4-8 July.
Babb C (2011) Measuring the Built Environment for Children: A theoretical perspective. State of Australian Cities Conference, Melbourne (VIC): 29 November–2 December.
Babb C, Curtis C (2013a) Evaluating the Built Environment for Active Travel to School. Australasian Transport Research Forum (ATRF), Brisbane (QLD), 2-4 October
Babb C, Curtis C (2013b) Access, Health and Independence: Children’s Quality of Life and Walkability. State of Australian Cities Conference, Sydney (NSW): 26-29 November
Burke M (2013) Influences on children’s travel behavior: preliminary findings from the CATCH and iMATCH projects on Australian primary school children. Public and industry presentation at University of Queensland, 5 March
Burke M, Curtis C, Whitzman C, Tranter P (2013) Are master-planned New Urbanist suburbs a ‘solution’ for sustainable travel to schools? Comparing children’s travel in select Australian primary schools. State of Australian Cities Conference, Sydney (NSW): 26-29 November
Cook A, Whitzman C, Tranter P (2011) Developing visual research tools to ‘do planning’ with children: 10 lessons from a methodological review. State of Australian Cities Conference, Melbourne (VIC): 29 November–2 December.
Cook A, Whitzman C, Tranter P (2012) We’re Gonna Make this Place Good for Kids! Redesigning Plazas with ‘Citizen Kid’. Association of American Geographers Annual Conference, New York City (NY), USA, 24-28 February
Cook A (2012) Voting with the feet: is there a relationship between independent mobility and children’s citizenship. National Child-friendly Cities Conference, Bendigo (VIC), 1-2 May
Cook A (2013) Rethinking Children, Citizenship and Cities. Stepping out with Citizen Kid. VicHealth Research into Practice Seminar, Melbourne (VIC), 14 August
Cook A, Tranter P, Whitzman C (2013) If I come back in a few years and nothing has changed, I’ll be MAD!: Lessons in co-planning with children form the CATCH/iMATCH ‘Citizen Kid’ Planning Group. State of Australian Cities Conference, Sydney (NSW) 26-29 November
Schoeppe S, Duncan M, Badland H, Oliver M. (2011) Are free range kids healthier? Associations of independent mobility and active travel with health outcomes: A systematic review. Poster presentation at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the International Society for Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, Melbourne (VIC), 15-18 June
Schoeppe S (2011) Are free range kids healthier? Associations of independent mobility and active travel with health and social factors in children. Oral presentation at a PhD Student Workshop organised by the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand, 30 June
Schoeppe S, Duncan MJ, Badland H, Oliver M, Curtis C (2012) Using travel diaries for measuring children’s independent mobility and active travel – Examples and experiences. Oral presentation at Be Active 2012/4th International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health, Sydney (NSW), 31 October-3 November
Schoeppe S (2013) Physical inactivity in Australian children – why we should encourage them to walk, cycle and play outdoors. Oral presentation at a Central Queensland University ‘Research Unplugged’ community event, Rockhampton (QLD), 18 April
Schoeppe S, Duncan MJ, Oliver M, Badland H, Browne M (2013) How independently mobile are Australian children? Examining associations between independent mobility and physical activity. Poster presentation at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the International Society for Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Ghent, Belgium, 22-25 May
Schoeppe S (2014) Physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children – the role of independent mobility. Oral presentation at the workshop on Children’s Champions – A Community of Practice, Rockhampton (QLD), 24 February
Schoeppe S. Duncan MJ, Badland HM, Oliver M, Browne M (2014) Associations between children’s active travel, physical activity and sedentary behaviour: Imputing missing survey and accelerometer data. Poster presentation at the 5th International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 8-11 April
Wati K, Burke M (2012) Children’s Cycling in Australia: A Review of Determinants, the Role of Social Connectedness and Implications for Policy and Practice. Australasian Transport Research Forum (ATRF), Perth (WA), 26-28 September
Wati K, Burke M (2013a) Children’s Cycling Trends, Accessibility to and Utilisation of Urban Facilities in Selected Australian Urban Environments. Australasian Transport Research Forum (ATRF), Brisbane (QLD), 2-4 October
Wati K, Burke M (2013b) Children’s Cycling for Transport in Selected Australian Urban Environments: Modal shares and determinations of significance. State of Australian Cities Conference, Sydney (NSW) 26-29 November
Whitzman C (2011) Research on walkability: the CATCH/iMATCH project. Promoting Liveablity through Walkability Conference, Melbourne (VIC), 28 June
Whitzman C, Tranter P (2012) Children’s independent mobility, active travel, and perceptions of local environments: ‘outside time’ and urban citizenship. Association of American Geographers Annual Conference, New York City (NY), USA, 24-28 February
Whitzman C (2012) Child-Friendly Cities: what are we really talking about? National Childfriendly Cities Conference, Bendigo (VIC), 1-2 May
Whitzman C (2012) Increasing Density: maximizing the benefit, minimizing the harm. Heart Foundation of Australia (Victorian Chapter) panel, Melbourne (VIC), 17 August
Whitzman C (2012) Are we designing healthy communities? Aquatics and Recreation Victoria annual conference, Melbourne (VIC), 23-24 August
Whitzman C (2012) Building inclusive cities: planning tools that promote the right to a city. Public Lecture, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Los Angeles (CA), USA, 14 December; Wellesley Institute on Urban Health, Toronto (ON), Canada, 18 December; Concordia University, Montreal (QC), Canada, 21 December
Whitzman C, Tranter P (2013) CATCH/iMATCH results: is there a link between children’s independent mobility and active citizenship? Stepping out with Citizen Kid. VicHealth Research into Practice Seminar, Melbourne (VIC), 14 August