Does Anyone Walk to School Anymore?

Not in my town, where endless redistricting has kids shipped up from downtown to the northernmost reaches of the city, and kids bused right by one middle school to go to another five miles away.  Yes, it's still happening in many cities.

Guest columnist Risa-Lavizzo-Mourey laments this at the New Jersey Star-Ledger.  "It’s back-to-school time, and for most of us that inspires images of children with brightly colored backpacks making their return to the classroom on sidewalks and crosswalks across America. But how many kids actually walk or bike to school these days? Far fewer than you think."

She reports that in 1969, nearly 50 percent of children 5 to 14 walked or biked to school. "And if they lived within a mile of the schoolhouse, 89 percent used their legs to get to class." But today, only 13 percent of students walk or bike to school, regardless of how nearby they live. "It isn’t unusual to see children climb into a car every morning to be ferried to the front door of a school that’s just a few blocks away," she recounts.

But it's not just that the bucolic ways of many towns and their schools no longer exist.  It's that more than 23 million children and adolescents — nearly 1 in 3 — are overweight or obese. And fewer than half of children ages 3 to 11, and a mere 8 percent of adolescents, are physically active every day. The lack of daily physical activity is an important factor.

The simple answer to why kids don't walk to school is change, Lavizzo-Mourey posits. "Change in traffic patterns and street planning that have made school routes less pedestrian-friendly. Change in the prevalence of safe and supervised routes to school."  And change in the very real possibility that, sadly today, some kids may face crime on the way to and from the schoolhouse.

Some federal grants are available to make road and sidewalk repairs aimed at getting kids to school safely on foot or bicycle, she notes. The money also supports efforts to get the community, school officials and others involved.

She suggest encouraging parents to lead “bike trains” and “walking school buses,” which brings together groups of students supervised by adults on their trips to school. “It’s about people all over this country coming together to take action to support the health of our kids," Lavizzo-Mourey quotes First Lady Michelle Obama, who also encourages this kind of involvement on the part of parents and community.


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