Is there a correlation between children's outdoor active mobility behaviour and neighbourhood safety? A systematic review of the evidence

Roula Zougheibe, Beverly Jepson, Richard Norman, Ori Gudes, Ashraf Dewan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review


Objective To identify, summarise and evaluate evidence on the correlation between perceived and actual neighbourhood safety (personal and road danger) and diverse forms of outdoor active mobility behaviour (ie, active play, exercise, and travel) among primary-school-aged children. 

Design A systematic review of evidence from observational studies exploring children's active mobility behaviour and safety. 

Data sources Six electronic databases were searched: Google Scholar, PubMed, Scopus, Science Direct, ProQuest and Web of Science from study inception until July 2020. 

Data extraction and synthesis Study selection and quality assessment were conducted independently by two reviewers. We expanded on a quality assessment tool and adopted a vote-counting technique to determine strength of evidence. The outcomes were categorised by individual, family and neighbourhood levels. 

Results A total of 29 studies were included, with a majority of cross-sectional design. Higher parental perceived personal safety correlated with increased children's active mobility behaviour, but most commonly in active travel (eg, independent walking or cycling to a local destination). Increased concerns regarding road danger correlated with a decrease in each type of children's active behaviour; active travel, play and exercise. However, these correlations were influenced by child's sex/gender, age, car ownership, neighbourhood types, across time, and proximity to destination. Limited or inconclusive evidence was found on correlate of children's outdoor active mobility behaviour to 'stranger danger', children's perceived personal safety, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status or measured safety. 

Conclusion Children are restricted by perception of safety. Encouraging children's active travel may require future strategies to address characteristics relevant to types of the neighbourhood that promote a high sense of personal safety. Children and parents may embrace other types of active mobility behaviour if road danger is mitigated. Sex/gender and age-specific interventions and redesign of public places could lead to child-friendly cities. Future studies may benefit from adopting validated measurement methods and fill existing research gaps.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere047062
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • epidemiology
  • public health
  • sports medicine

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