Transport study back on track: leader

After delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Beats-2 Study team is gearing up to resume...
After delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Beats-2 Study team is gearing up to resume research with Dunedin schools. Pictured are (from left) researchers Kim King, Kaisa Kentala, Camila de Moraes, Margaretha Situmorang, Mohammad Lutfur Rahman, Associate Professor Susan Sandretto, Long Chen, Associate Professor Kirsten Coppell and Adjunct Professor Sandra Mandic. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD
After being derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the Beats-2 Study on active transportation to school is ramping up again.

Study leader Adjunct Professor Sandy Mandic, now based in the School of Sport and Recreation at the Auckland University of Technology, said the Covid-19 pandemic had halted plans to collect follow-up data in March last year and caused significant disruption to the University of Otago-based research team.

From January, the Active Living Laboratory and Beats (Built Environment and Active Transport to School) research team has been based in the university’s Centre for Sustainability.

Prof Mandic continues to work with academics and researchers in Otago, and around the world, as the massive study of teenagers’ transportation habits in Dunedin and rural Otago moves into its next phase.

Prof Mandic said data collection for the Beats-2 Study would hopefully involve pupils at all 12 Dunedin high schools — as the original Beats Study did in 2014-15.

The aim was to create a direct comparison of transportation now with then, taking into account the changes to the city’s cycling and walking infrastructure, along with other factors.

This type of direct comparison research, based on real-world situations and changes — where the investigators did not influence the outcome — provided high quality data for researchers, Prof Mandic said.

"Six of the 12 schools are affected by new infrastructure and six are not, plus we have an equal number of schools on the hills as on the flat.

"That is going to provide us with excellent comparative data."

The researchers were working with schools to establish a schedule for visits and data collection throughout the rest of 2021 and into 2022, Prof Mandic said.

"We are looking forward to working again with Dunedin secondary schools, adolescents and their parents and moving the Beats-2 Study forward.

"Of course, we understand that, due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on schools, we need to be as flexible as possible in terms of the data collection.

"As a result, we have simplified the study to involve only the student survey and activity monitors — we will no longer survey parents’ activity levels," she said.

There would be some focus groups, but only involving Maori and Pasifika people, to allow for cultural aspects to be considered.

Prof Mandic said the research team was looking forwards to continuing to advance scientific knowledge relating to active transport to school, and would continue sharing its results with schools, the Dunedin City Council, the wider community, and researchers around the world.

By the end of last year, the research team had published 27 scientific journal articles reporting the Beats research findings.

"The Beats Study has had a massive impact within the research community internationally.

"It has been an amazing team effort so far, and we are very much looking forward to the next chapter of the Beats journey."

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