We Wonder Why Youth are Obese?

This week I heard two stories about active transport for school children that made me shake my head, one in a good way and one bad.

Graph from Huffpost.com 9/30/09 "Cycling or Walking to School Will Not Be Tolerated!"

First, it is no secret that an alarming (and perhaps increasing, although some data indicate the trend is flattening) number of children and youth are overweight or obese. Based on 2008 CDC data, about 33% of youth and children obese. Obese youth are more likely to be inactive, and inactivity in childhood leads to about a 90% likelihood of inactivity throughout the lifespan. Inactivity leads to increased likelihood of chronic and acute health conditions. Therefore it is critical to quality of life, health and well-being that children be physically active, are encouraged to do so, and like it.

So when I was talking to a relative, and she said her children (now 13 & 15) are FORBIDDEN by the school administration to bike to school even if she biked to/from school with her kids, I could not believe it! As someone who biked to school as a kid and currently bikes to work when weather permits, I cannot imagine being actively discouraged from biking. Shouldn’t one be able to bike to school/work if he/she chooses!? Isn’t this the parents’ decision, not school administrators?

I began asking other parents if this were true in their school districts–the answer was yes! I found a May 2, 2012 story on NPR titled “What’s Lost When Kids Don’t Ride Bikes To School” in which it was reported the number of students who walk or ride their bikes to school has dropped from 48% in 1969 to just 13% in 2009. The main reason stated for the rule is safety, which is outlined in a great book titled Free Range Kids: How to Raise Self-Reliant, Safe Kids.

The second story is from a conversation I had with a friend who teaches physical education in elementary school. I asked her about the “no biking to school rule” (confirmed), but she also told me about another active transport initiative. At her school every Friday she picks up about 30 kids on the “Walking School Bus. Brilliant! She said it is growing in popularity and the kids love it. What a simple way to solve the physical activity and safety issue.

In an era where childhood and youth obesity is an public health issue, daily required Physical Education in our schools is a rarity, yet data indicates physical activity increases cognitive function and therefore academic achievement, making it possible for children to actively transport themselves to school seems like a great solution to many issues.

To learn more, read the brief by the Active Living Research arm of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation that summarizes the research and provides recommendations for policies that increase active transport–“A substantial body of research shows that certain aspects of the transportation infrastructure—public transit, greenways and trails, sidewalks and safe street crossings near schools, bicycle paths, traffic–calming devices, and sidewalks that connect schools and homes to destinations—are associated with more walking and bicycling, greater physical activity and lower obesity rates.”

CDC  Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.3 Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.

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