Evidence Based Practice Unit


On the Way to School in Bogotá, Colombia

20 June 2024

We’re exploring how active interventions can impact physical and mental health in different communities across the world.

On the Way to School staff and school children in Colombia gathered together with arms in the air and happy smiles.

Author: Jess Stepanous, Quantitative Research Fellow

In May of this year, I had the opportunity to visit Bogotá, Colombia, to participate in a dialogue week for the On the Way to School project.

On the Way to School is a project supported by the Evidence Based Practice Unit, a collaboration between UCL and Anna Freud, looking at active mobility interventions for the promotion of physical activity and mental well-being in adolescents in Bogotá, Colombia, and Maputo, Mozambique.

This week was an opportunity for international collaborators to come together to discuss the implementation and evaluation of active mobility interventions (walking and cycling) to and from school in Bogotá, Colombia, and soon to be in Maputo, Mozambique. The evaluation focuses on the impact of these interventions on both physical and mental health.

In Bogotá, the project centers on two existing programmes: “Ciempiés” (group walking) and “Al Colegio en Bici” (group cycling), both supervised by adult monitors. Being on the ground and joining these walking and cycling routes highlighted the multiple ways in which the programme positively affects the mental wellbeing of the young people involved.

  1. Physical Activity Benefits: Children become more physically active by walking or cycling to school instead of using motor vehicles. Research shows that school-related physical activity interventions enhance positive mental health in children and adolescents [1].
  2. Building Relationships: Students develop connections with peers from their own class and other classes, as well as with adult monitors. One school reported increased connectedness among students and reduced bullying since implementing the Ciempiés walking programme.
  3. Fun and Learning: The monitors make the process enjoyable by playing games and interacting with the young people throughout the journey. Even though some of the routes took 30-40 minutes, energy and enthusiasm was high throughout, making the time fly by. These educational games also encourage the young people to learn more about their city and surroundings, making them feel more connected to the environment that they live in, which is not possible behind the window of a car or bus.
  4. Safety: Reliable routes and avoidance of narrow or unsuitable pavements provide peace of mind for students and their parents. The adult monitors also guide and protect students in high-traffic areas to ensure safety.

As part of the dialogue week, different teams had the chance to share knowledge about the varied methods for the evaluation. For example, I learned about methods to collect data on steps and heart rate through a smartwatch, GPS data for location, and citizen science methods where young people can take photos and record voice messages to share their views about the environment on their route to school.

Overall, the experience underscored the importance of considering individual cultures and environments in the implementation of active mobility interventions and their impact on mental wellbeing. For example, care must be taken to ensure that, when mental wellbeing measures have been translated from English to Spanish, the meaning and concepts are retained, and the wording is suitable for Colombian Spanish speakers.

As the project expands to Maputo, Mozambique, understanding the local context will be essential to understand how best to implement active mobility interventions to improve young people’s lives. With this trip, it was great to get a firsthand look at the context of the research and to meet the children to see how the programme is making a difference.

Find out more

At Anna Freud we believe mental wellbeing is the foundation from which children and young people achieve their potential. By continually expanding our understanding and translating it into practice – grounded in science and guided by children and young people – we can ensure they get the right support at the right time.

Find out more about Anna Freud’s commitment to leveraging the power of science and data to close the gap in children and young people’s mental health in our Thinking Differently manifesto


[1] Andermo S, Hallgren M, Nguyen TT, Jonsson S, Petersen S, Friberg M, Romqvist A, Stubbs B, Elinder LS. School-related physical activity interventions and mental health among children: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports medicine-open. 2020 Dec;6:1-27.