The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Active Travel, Adolescents & Mental Health

Methodological innovations for the Developing Mind in underserved communities

4 January 2023

This three-year implementation research project will assess the acceptability and impact of active mobility to and from school interventions (AMTS) for promoting healthy lifestyle practices and mental well-being among secondary-school adolescents, aged 11 to 16 years. The project focuses on healthy lifestyle practices such as walking and cycling regularly to and from school as catalysts for the reduction of risks of non-communicable diseases (NCD). In doing so, the project will adopt a life course approach to implementation research underpinned by principles of diversity, inclusive stakeholder participation, and health equity. Such an approach will be instrumental in highlighting the health impact of active mobility policies targeting this critical life stage in different urban contexts in low and middle-income countries.

Project outline

The project focuses on two (2) contrasting case studies in different global regions (Africa and Latin America), to shed light on the complexities and opportunities of the implementation, adaptation, and scalability of active mobility interventions, and the applicability of such interventions in a different social, cultural, economic, and governance context. First, we will assess specific implementation outcomes of two novel existing AMTS interventions in Bogotá, Colombia: (i) Al colegio en bici (Cycling) and (ii) Ciempiés Caminos Seguros1 (Walking). Second, using innovative citizen science methods, we will assess the impact of cycling and walking interventions on physical activity and mental well-being outcomes. Third, we will test the feasibility of a pilot implementation of a similar active mobility intervention among adolescents in disadvantaged urban communities in low-income and low-resourced contexts in Maputo, Mozambique, where despite a large share of children and adolescents walking to school, there are no explicit policies or programmes to support such practices. Fourth, building on diverse research and implementation partnerships, the project will establish equitable collaborations across sectors for capacity building and facilitating an international dialogue and knowledge exchange around implementation research, policy adaptation and effectiveness, and the reduction of NCD risks through the promotion of physical activity and mental well-being in active mobility interventions. The project is structured around four work packages (WP) addressing the above guiding objectives.

The research is grounded on the conviction that engaging with diverse empirical realities, international experts, and different governance and policy contexts, while focusing on population groups often overlooked in policy-making, can strengthen research capacity and lead to more refined and adaptable methods. These methods will be put to the service of improving adolescent mental health research in the UK, and its ability to influence research conducted elsewhere.

Urban public health measures in response to the pandemic have reconfigured physical and social spaces for adolescents, constraining their movements through lockdowns and social distancing measures. The research seeks to document how adolescents have adapted to such spaces and how they have managed such constraints. It will document how active travel to and from school might impact positively (or negatively) on their mental health and self-perceptions of wellbeing. It will do so by integrating a specific geospatial participatory technology (called 'Our Voice by the people') with a biometric sensing device (called 'Empatica'). Two schools will be selected in each of four cities with the aim of outlining differences in the human and financial resources available to the districts in which the schools are located.

By comparing these case studies, the research will seek to make inferences on how such differences might be correlated with mental health outcomes and well-being among adolescents in different societies.

Project team

Principal Investigator: Dr Daniel Oviedo Hernandez (DPU)

Co-Investigator: Professor Julio Davila (DPU) will join OWS as Co-lead for WP1, and Co-I for WP4.

Co-Investigator: Dr Natalia Villamizar Duarte (DPU)

Dr Benjamin Chrisinger, Oxford University, will join OWS as Co-lead for WP2 and Co-I for WP3 and WP4

Professor Julian Edbrooke-Childs from the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families will join OWS as Co-I for WP2 and WP3, also as Co-lead for WP4

Professor Olga Sarmiento from Universidad de los Andes in Colombia will join OWS as a Project Manager for WP2 and will provide her guidance and expertise during WP1, WP3, and WP4.

Professor Germán Casas from Universidad de los Andes in Colombia is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatry and Paediatrics at the School of Medicine. He will join OWS as Co-Lead for WP3 and Co-I for WP2 and WP4.

Professor Carlos Serra from University of Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique. He will join OWS as Co-Lead for WP3 and Co-I for WP4

Gessica Macamo. Research assistant at OMT (Mobility and Transport Observatory). She will join OWS as a Project Manager for WP4.

Professor Abby King from Stanford University in the USA will join OWS as the leader of the Our Voice team from Stanford University. She will help the team during WP1, WP2, WP3, and WP4.