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The effect of school zones on physical activity

When children are involved in sports from an early age, it has a positive effect on their health in later life. This, in turn, will reduce future healthcare costs. That is why there is a need for effective (and cost-effective) measures that encourage children to be physically active. Local authorities often designate 'school zones' for safety reasons.

The aim of the School Zones project is to find out whether these zones contribute to the amount of exercise that children get. The design of the built environment is very important in terms of the amount of sport and physical activity that children can engage in. Research has shown that a safer environment with sufficient crossing points and play areas can have a positive effect on sporting and physical activity in children. Children spend a lot of time in or near school playgrounds, and this is where they are most active. Many local authorities invest in creation of school zones for reasons of traffic safety. This involves introducing measures in the streets around the school to increase safety at the school and the immediate surroundings. If, in addition, these school zones have a positive influence on physical activity in the young, this can be an added incentive for local authorities to invest in them. TNO and the VU University Medical Center (VUmc) are conducting research to establish whether school zones encourage children to be physically active.

Insight into cost effectiveness

The School Zones project will run for three years (2013-2016) and will compare schools that have zones with those that do not. In other respects, such as neighbourhood composition, the schools being studied are as similar as possible. The study focuses on whether school zones stimulate sporting and physical activity in schoolchildren (Groups 6 and 7). The cost-effectiveness of various measures will also be studied. This will provide insight into the factors that determine the success or failure of introducing school zones. The results will be incorporated in the next version of the guidelines for safe school environments (´Leidraad inrichting veilige schoolomgeving´), compiled by Royal HaskoningDHV with and for users.

The project is being funded by the Sport programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw). The VUmc and TNO are the study designers, in collaboration with the following parties: the Amsterdam Public Health Service, Jantje Beton (an organisation that promotes free outdoor play for children), the Netherlands Institute for Sport and Physical Activity (NISB), Royal HaskoningDHV, the City Region of Amsterdam and The Hague University of Applied Sciences.

Dr. Frank Pierik

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