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More targeted training needed for youth to get on bikes

More targeted training needed for youth to get on their bikes and off to school

A comprehensive study led by University of Otago researchers has revealed links between cycle skills training and young people’s lack of confidence around cycling to school.

The research found that cycle skills training improves children’s and adolescents’ knowledge and confidence to cycle in different environments, but does not increase their confidence or rates of cycling to school. The research suggests additional interventions and training is needed to encourage more children and adolescents to choose cycling as a regular transport option to school.

Two articles published recently in The Journal of Transport and Health, from The University of Otago’s Active Living Laboratory (School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences) reported that although cycle skills training improved cycling-related knowledge and confidence to cycle on the road in children and adolescents, the training had minimal effects on confidence to cycle to school or cycling behaviours.

In children only, the on-road cycle training had small positive effects on increasing rates of cycling to school.

Lead author Associate Professor Sandy Mandic says encouraging active transport to school (such as walking and cycling), could help curb concerning trends around young people becoming less physically active.

“We’re seeing a decline in physical activity from childhood to adolescence. This decline is more noticeable in adolescent girls versus boys. Encouraging cycling to school could be one way to promote physical activity in youth,” Associate Professor Mandic says.

The study involved 429 children from three primary and intermediate schools and 117 adolescent girls in two secondary schools in Dunedin. Participants were taught the cycle skills on school grounds and those who achieved basic skills spent six hours practising on roads with light traffic.

“Cycle skills training with more emphasis on cycling on roads and in traffic could help increase children and adolescents’ cycle skills and confidence (and confidence of their parents), and may facilitate an increased uptake of cycling as a mode of transport. However, for both groups, additional interventions targeting parents, schools, and built environment/urban-planning changes may be necessary to achieve behavioural change,” Mandic says.

This study was conducted in collaboration with the Dunedin City Council and was funded by the Council and Sport New Zealand.

Associate Professor Mandic hopes the study will help shape nationwide Cycle Skills Training guidelines to specifically target the factors effecting young people’s ability and willingness to cycle to school. These might include more on-road cycling time and tailoring the programme to adolescents’ needs and preferences.

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