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Kids in the city study: research design and methodology

Melody Oliver1, Karen Witten2, Robin A Kearns3*, Suzanne Mavoa2, Hannah M Badland14, Penelope Carroll2, Chelsea Drumheller1, Nicola Tavae2, Lanuola Asiasiga2, Su Jelley2, Hector Kaiwai2, Simon Opit3, En-Yi Judy Lin2, Paul Sweetsur2, Helen Moewaka Barnes2, Nic Mason5 and Christina Ergler3

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, NZ

2 SHORE and Whariki Research Centre, School of Public Health, Massey University, Auckland, NZ

3 School of Environment, The University of Auckland, Auckland, NZ

4 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Division of Population Health, University College London, London, UK

5 Institute of Public Policy, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, NZ

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:587  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-587

Published: 24 July 2011



Physical activity is essential for optimal physical and psychological health but substantial declines in children's activity levels have occurred in New Zealand and internationally. Children's independent mobility (i.e., outdoor play and traveling to destinations unsupervised), an integral component of physical activity in childhood, has also declined radically in recent decades. Safety-conscious parenting practices, car reliance and auto-centric urban design have converged to produce children living increasingly sedentary lives. This research investigates how urban neighborhood environments can support or enable or restrict children's independent mobility, thereby influencing physical activity accumulation and participation in daily life.


The study is located in six Auckland, New Zealand neighborhoods, diverse in terms of urban design attributes, particularly residential density. Participants comprise 160 children aged 9-11 years and their parents/caregivers. Objective measures (global positioning systems, accelerometers, geographical information systems, observational audits) assessed children's independent mobility and physical activity, neighborhood infrastructure, and streetscape attributes. Parent and child neighborhood perceptions and experiences were assessed using qualitative research methods.


This study is one of the first internationally to examine the association of specific urban design attributes with child independent mobility. Using robust, appropriate, and best practice objective measures, this study provides robust epidemiological information regarding the relationships between the built environment and health outcomes for this population.