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Interventions to Increase Active Travel to School

A teacher walks a student to the school building.The Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) recommends interventions to increase active travel to school based on evidence they increase walking among students and reduce risks for traffic-related injury. A new review of economic evidence also shows the benefits of these interventions exceed the cost.

The recommendation is based on a systematic review of 52 studies published through March 2018. Included studies evaluated the impact of active travel to school interventions on students’ commuting patterns. The review focused on interventions for active travel to school and pedestrian and bicycling injuries.

Active travel interventions make it easier for children and adolescents to commute to school actively (e.g., walking or biking). They do this by working to improve the physical or social safety of common routes to school or by promoting safe pedestrian behaviors. In the United States, the most commonly used active travel to school intervention is Safe Routes to School External Web Site Icon – an evidence-based program highlighted by CDC’s High-Impact in 5 Years External Web Site Icon initiative.

Active travel to school interventions must include at least one of the following components: engineering, education, encouragement, and/or enforcement. Interventions may also include either evaluation and/or equity components. Communities typically select or modify intervention components to address specific barriers to active travel. Programs are often combined with other school- and community-based interventions to increase opportunities for physical activity.

The proportion of students in grades K-8 who walk or bike to school fell from 47.7 percent in 1969 to only 12.7 percent in 2009 (McDonald et al., 2011). Active travel to school increases physical activity which can improve academic performance, strengthen bones, and reduce risk for heart disease (CDC, 2018 External Web Site Icon). Youth who are regularly active have a better chance of a healthy adulthood and a reduced chance to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes or hypertension (USDHHS, 2018 pdf icon [PDF - 14.4 MB] External Web Site Icon).

The CPSTF also recommends combined built environment approaches to increase physical activity. These interventions link one or more interventions to improve pedestrian or bicycle transportation systems with one or more land use and environmental design interventions.

For More Information:


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity and health: the benefits of physical activity. Atlanta (GA): 2015. Available at URL: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm External Web Site Icon

Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. DHHS, Washington (DC). Available at URL: www.health.gov/paguidelines External Web Site Icon

McDonald NC, Brown AL, Marchetti LM, Pedroso MS. US school travel, 2009: an assessment of trends. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2011;41(2):146-51. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21767721 External Web Site Icon