Dr. Jennifer Roberts
June 3, 2019

Concerns about safety can discourage youth of color, particularly girls and those in low-income neighborhoods, from engaging in “active transportation,” like walking, biking or taking public transportation, according to new research from the University of Maryland School of Public Health published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Because minority and low-income adolescents are more likely to be obese and less likely to be physically active than their white, wealthier counterparts, active transportation provides an important exercise opportunity for these youth, the researchers note.

The Physical Environment and Active Transportation (PEAT) Study focused on experiences of oppression and willingness to engage in active transportation among adolescents living within two-miles of the Washington DC Metro Silver Line in Fairfax County, VA. Fairly recently, in July 2014, the transportation landscape of this area had expanded significantly with the opening of the Silver Line, which included five new stations in the county.

The research was led by Dr. Jennifer Roberts, an assistant professor of kinesiology, and included Dr. Craig Fryer, an associate professor of behavioral and community health; Dr. Rashawn Ray, an associate professor of sociology; and Dr. Micah Brachman, a lecturer in geographical sciences.

Researchers conducted focus groups with 12- to 15-year-olds during summer 2016 in order to gauge their attitudes toward active transportation.  To consider the interplay between race, gender and class, dialogue and responses were analyzed through an intersectional framework.

Many participants, especially girls or residents of low-income areas, were dissuaded from active transportation because they or their parents worried about potential crime or felt unwelcome or as a potential target due to their race.

“Even though I am an active living researcher, I make it a point to not approach my work myopically and only view the benefits of active transportation,” Dr. Roberts explained. “There are many environmental and social variables that converge on the active transportation experiences of some youth of color, thus making it a positive, negative, or in some cases, fatal (e.g., “Walking While Black”) experience.”

Participants still reported using active transportation for short to medium distances, and some were encouraged by families and friends, who viewed walking or biking as fun or a good source of exercise. Many also relied on active transportation due to limited financial resources.

The PEAT Study is the first to use an intersectional framework to examine built, social, political and historical influences on active transportation in public health research, which is a powerful means for examining overlapping systems of oppression within the United States.

Roberts’ research focuses on the relationship between the built environment and physical activity and its impact on obesity and other public health outcomes. She serves as a faculty associate at the Maryland Population Research Center and a faculty affiliate at the Maryland Transportation Institute.

Related Links

Between Privilege and Oppression: An Intersectional Analysis of Active Transportation Experiences Among D.C. Area Youth

Related People
Jennifer D. Roberts, Craig S. Fryer