Background Road traffic deaths rank as the 2nd leading cause of death worldwide in children aged 5 to 9 years old. Child pedestrians are particularly vulnerable. Many risk factors have been identified as contributing to childhood pedestrian injury risk, but the role of obesity is less well understood. Obesity affects children’s physical and cognitive abilities, both of which could substantially influence a child’s ability to choose a safe route and to cross roads safely.
Methods Two hundred and forty 7- and 8-year-old children completed a series of road crossings in a semi-immersive virtual environment by watching traffic and stepping off of a curb onto a trigger plate when they felt it was safe to cross. Road crossing performance was assessed via measures of attention, wait time, movement timing, and crashes. Route selection was assessed by asking children to choose the safest route to a destination using vignettes and a tabletop model. BMI was calculated using BMI-for-age growth charts for boys and girls.
Results Children with higher BMI were riskier than peers with lower BMI on measures of waiting before crossing, time to spare relative to oncoming vehicles, and crashes with virtual traffic. BMI was not related to route selection.
Conclusions Childhood obesity is an important risk factor for pedestrian injury. In particular, children with high BMI had difficulty perceiving and acting on gaps in traffic.
- childhood injury
- virtual environments
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