PURPOSE: To determine the relationship between (1) urban structure characteristics, (2) children's environmental experiences and active behavioral patterns, and (3) perceived health and body mass index (BMI). DESIGN: Cross-sectional study. SETTING: City of Turku, western coast of Finland, 175,000 inhabitants. Average residential density of the studied settings was 17 housing units per hectare, proportion of green structure 43%, and proportion of population under 15 years old 17%. SUBJECTS: One thousand eight hundred thirty seven fifth (10-12 years old) and seventh (13-15 years old) graders from 54 schools in Turku. MEASURES: Self-reported behavioral patterns (activity of school travel mode, territorial range, mobility licenses, and distance to meaningful places) and environmental experiences (localized meaningful places, likability index, environmental fears) were gathered on the basis of locality with an Internet-based softGIS method. Self-reported BMI, perceived health, and daily symptoms were also queried. Geographic information system-based measures of urban structure (residential density, proportion of green structure, proportion of children), calculated within a 500-m buffer of each respondent's home, were used as independent variables. ANALYSIS: Mainly logistic regression analysis. RESULTS: After controlling for gender, age, and neighborhood socioeconomic status (proportion of academically educated), residential density was significantly associated with active travel mode to school and short distances to the meaningful places of children. The proportions of green structure and children had an association with nonactive transport, long distance to meaningful places, and small territorial range. We also found significant associations between active school travel mode and reduced risk of being overweight when controlled for gender and age but not when the proportion of academically educated was also controlled. The negative association between likability index and daily symptoms and positive association with perceived health remained significant after controlling for all three background variables. The only urban structure variable directly associated with good perceived health was the proportion of green structure around the child's home. CONCLUSION: Moderate urban density seems to have child-friendly characteristics such as an ability to promote active school journeys and to guarantee a short distance to meaningful places. The studied Finnish children expressed very few environmental fears, and the possibilities for them to independently use the opportunities of the urban environment were very high. The limitation of the study was that the socioeconomic background variables were extracted from register-based geographic grid data rather than from respondents. More refined measures of urban structure are also needed in future studies.
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