The effect of schoolzones on children's physical activity


The project is funded by the Sport programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw).


  • TNO
  • the Amsterdam Public Health Service
  • Jantje Beton Foundation
  • the Netherlands Institute for Sport and Physical Activity (NISB)
  • Royal HaskoningDHV
  • the City Region of Amsterdam
  • The Hague University of Applied Sciences


When children are involved in physical activity from an early age, this has a positive effect on their health later in life. This, in turn, will reduce future healthcare costs. That is why there is a great need for effective measures that stimulate children to be physically active. The built environment, and especially the school environment, can play a major role in promoting youth’s physical activity levels. The school environment provides the opportunity to reach children with diverse backgrounds within a setting in which children spend a large proportion of their time. Research has shown that a safer environment with sufficient crossing points and play areas has a positive effect on the amount of sports and exercise that children engage in.


In recent years, local Dutch governments have started to promote the traffic safety in the vicinity of primary school buildings, designating these area as a so-called ‘schoolzone’. Schoolzones increase traffic safety in the primary school area through infrastructural changes. These changes may include measures such as sidewalk improvements, traffic calming, pedestrian or bicycle crossings, bicycle facilities and traffic signs. Besides these infrastructural changes, education of the parents and enforcement of new regulations are an important part of the schoolzone. If, in addition to increasing traffic safety, these school zones have a positive influence on the amount sports and physical activity in youth, this can be an added incentive for local authorities to invest in them. TNO and the VU University Medical Center (VUmc) are conducting research to establish whether school zones are also encouraging children to be physically active.


The School Zones project runs for three years (2013-2016) andcompares  schools that acquire schoolzones with those that do not. In total, 10 primary schools in the Netherlands will take part in the study. Physical activity and location of 400 children in stage 6 and 7 (9-11 years old) will be monitored using accelerometers and GPS. In addition to this objective measurement of physical activity, changes in the school environment will be assessed using questionnaires and observations. The cost-effectiveness of various measures will also be studied. This will provide insight into the factors that determine the success or failure of school zones to stimulate physical activity.

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