Walking School Bus Program Increases Children’s Physical Activity

13 Sep

Not that you need any more reasons to get a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program started in your community, but here’s one more: In a study of fourth-graders at eight elementary schools in the Houston Independent School District, researchers at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine found that students who participated in a Walking School Bus program had increased rates of walking to school and increased daily minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. The report appears in the current issue of Pediatrics.

“In the United States, children are not meeting the minimum goal of one hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on most days of the week,” said Dr. Jason Mendoza, assistant professor of pediatrics-nutrition at BCM. “One of the ways that has been promising for improving children’s physical activity is getting them to walk or bike to school.”

In the ’70s, 42 percent of children in the United States used to walk or bike to school. As of 2009, this was down to a paltry 13 percent. Meanwhile, childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing, and decreased physical activity is thought to be one of the major factors in this public health problem.

Researchers will now look at the impact of the Walking School Bus program over a longer period of time and in a larger sample of schools, and will incorporate Body Mass Index (BMI) calculations to measure overweight and obesity. They will also implement a similar “bicycle train” program to measure the effects it has on physical activity in children.

The Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program is designed to address these issues head on. At its heart, the SRTS Program empowers communities to make walking and bicycling to school a safe and routine activity once again. The Program makes funding available for a wide variety of programs and projects, from building safer street crossings to establishing programs that encourage children and their parents to walk and bicycle safely to school.

The goal of New Jersey’s Safe Routes to School Program is to assist New Jersey communities in developing and implementing projects and programs that encourage walking and bicycling to school while enhancing the safety of these trips. These programs can bring a wide range of benefits to students and the community. These include an easy way for children to get the regular physical activity they need for good health and even to ease traffic jams and reduce pollution around schools. A major goal of the program is to increase bicycle, pedestrian and traffic safety. Successful Safe Routes to School programs in the United States usually includes one or more of these approaches: engineering, enforcement, education, encouragement.

The Greater Mercer TMA is the local SRTS coordinator for Mercer and Ocean counties in New Jersey. If you’re interested in learning more about SRTS in your community, please contact GMTMA’s SRTS Coordinator Rebecca Hersh at rhersh@gmtma.org.

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