Skip the bus, it's walk to school week

Oct 3, 2005 — NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Today marks the start of International Walk to School Week, a global effort to encourage children, parents, teachers, and community leaders to celebrate the benefits of walking and the need to create communities that are safe for pedestrians.

Last year, an estimated 3 million walkers in 36 countries observed the week-long event by walking to school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which supports International Walk to School Week.

Low rates of walking and physical activity and a 300 percent increase in the number of overweight children since the early 1970s helped fuel the initiative, which dates back to 1994.

According to CDC, in 1969, roughly half of all schoolchildren walked or biked to school. Today, fewer than 15 percent of children and adolescents use active modes of transportation to get to class.

In a survey conducted in 2004 among a group of parents of 5- to 18-year-olds, distance to school was the most commonly reported barrier to walking to school, cited by about 61 percent of parents, followed by traffic-related danger cited by 30 percent, and weather cited by 19 percent. Close to 12 percent of parents reported crime as a barrier to walking to school and 6 percent cited school policy as a barrier.

Efforts to overcome these barriers include the Safe Routes to School (SR2S) initiative. A transportation bill passed by Congress this year earmarks $612 million in funds for SR2S programs to increase safety for children walking and biking to school.

SR2S programs aim to promote walking to school through the "4E's" - engineering (of sidewalks, for example), enforcement (of safety regulations such as speed limits), education (to train children in road skills), and encouragement.

According to CDC, one SR2S program in Marin County, California that incorporates all of the 4Es resulted in a 64 percent increase in the number of children walking to school and a 114 percent increase in bicycling by the second year of the program.

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