Friday, September 7, 2012

"Walking School Bus" concept to combat childhood obesity

In recognition of September being Childhood Obesity Awareness Month I have decided to dedicate a little time each morning searching the web for current childhood obesity research and news. This morning, I stumbled upon the best site I've found so far addressing the childhood obesity epidemic: Child Obesity News.

I came across this site when I saw on Facebook that a friend of mine, Christie Forbes Rutledge, was commenting about the fact that the town where she's raising her kids - which happens to be the town where we went to high school together - still does not offer busing for kids to and from school. I recall moving to Hanover in the late 1980s from another school district that did have busing and thinking, "Wow, this place is behind the times!"

In fact, more than one person commented on this friend's post with similar astonishment. "I can't believe that they still don't have a bus system. That's crazy," one person said. "That's just nuts," said another. Another still recalled her experience growing up in that school district, "I hated that walk".

It's the law in Pennsylvania, and as Christie pointed out, "you have to live more than three miles from the school for [the district] to have busing." It may sound crazy, and it is certainly more of a law to protect small school districts from financial hardship than anything else, but encouraging active transport to school is probably a good idea when considering the current state of obesity among America's school-children.

Walking three miles, though, shouldn't sound unreasonable, but to most people it does. Three miles? Think about it: When was the last time you walked three miles? I would hasten to bet that the extent of most Americans' daily walk is however far it is from the closest parking space they can find to the front door of the supermarket. I don't say this as insult but from experience. I certainly fit into that category a few years ago, but then I had a BMI of 56 at the time.

While the question of whether making kids walk to and from school is an undue hardship remains up for debate, many people come down on the side of safety. Sure, some say, walking is a good idea. But in the current age we live in is walking to and from school really a good idea?

Taking safety concerns into consideration, the website Child Obesity News published an article on its blog in August talking about a concept called the "walking school bus". Endorsed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the walking school bus concept is describes like this:
A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. If that sounds simple, it is, and that’s part of the beauty of the walking school bus. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their children to school to as structured as a route with meeting points, a timetable and a regularly rotated schedule of trained volunteers.
After directing my friend to the website, she pointed out that Hanover indeed does have something in place that is like the walking school bus concept, which is good to hear. But this whole discussion makes me wonder, what kind of impact does walking to and from school actually have on childhood obesity? 

Not a matter of mere walking to school, my friend points out, "Kids are obese because they eat fast food, watching TV and playing video games.  Plus they don't let the kids on the playground in the morning before school starts and they don't get to go outside until right after lunch time for 10-15 minutes. They get one more recess in the afternoon for 10-15 minutes."

Furthermore, my friend reports that her daughter "says she is bored and hates sitting at her desk all day. I think if they let them outside for a little in the morning like they used to she and the other children would benefit."

I wholeheartedly agree! For more information on Childhood Obesity and ideas on what you can do to help combat the epidemic, check out Child Obesity News. There is a brief, informative and research-driven presentation on the site that addresses factors that lead to childhood obesity: Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food and Childhood Obesity. Also, you can follow them on Twitter @obesityblog. And of course you can follow me on Twitter @myfitlife2day.

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