Freedom to explore? An investigation of independent mobility among children residing in an ultra-dense metropolis

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    The freedom of children to move around in their neighborhood without adult supervision, which is known as independent mobility (IM) (1), has been shown to be critical for cognitive, emotional, and social development in children (2). IM usually involves active modes of travel (walking and cycling) or taking public transport to various destinations. Children’s IM has attracted a lot of research interest in western countries and secular data have shown a dramatic decline of unsupervised travel during the last few decades (2, 3). Such change is worrying because lower levels of IM may result in fewer opportunities for children to engage in active travel and outdoor play, hence diminish overall physical activity (PA) participation.

    Hong Kong, a notable metropolis with high population density, lacks data on children’s IM and outdoor play. The issue of improving walkability of this packed city has received worldwide attention: the first ever international conference on walkability in Asia (Walk21) was recently held in Hong Kong. Reconsidering how to embrace walking as a natural mode of mobility has been urged by the government officials during the conference. It is timely to investigate IM in the Chinese context considering the significant impact of IM on individual health and the whole society.

    The proposed longitudinal study will examine the potential of IM to increase PA and reduce sedentary behavior, and enhance our understanding of barriers toward IM for children in Hong Kong. 450 children in grade 3 (typically aged 8-9 years) will be recruited and examined three times over a two-year period in order to record seasonal and age-related changes. A mixed-method approach will be applied, i.e. incorporating accelerometer with an integral light sensor (to measure PA and record outdoor location) and a subjective measure (to determine independence from adults). IM will be assessed by parent- and children-report questionnaires in two domains: parents’ permission for their children to travel and outdoor play, as well as the actual mobility of children. Furthermore, questions will be asked with regards to IM on weekdays and weekends separately. Finally, barriers perceived by parents to grant children greater IM will be gauged through an exploratory qualitative interview, nominal group technique.

    The findings will shed light on whether and how IM can be a viable intervention strategy to enhance an optimal activity profile. Better understanding of barriers toward IM is a necessary step toward informing effective intervention strategies.
    Effective start/end date1/01/1830/06/20


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