Back to school, back to riding?

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Pulled From BikesBelong.org

September means back to school for many American families. Sadly, these days it is rare for children to pedal or walk to that first day of class (or any, for that matter). Only 12 percent of U.S. children walked (11%) or biked (1%) to school in 2009, compared to 48 percent in 1969. Due to a variety of factors, kids are getting to school through passive travel (private car, bus, etc.), not active travel like biking and walking.

This decline in active travel to school has directly correlated with a rise in childhood obesity. During the past 40 years, U.S. childhood obesity rates have tripled, and more than 33% of children and adolescents are overweight, obese, or at risk of becoming so. Kids are getting fatter for a number of reasons, but this huge decline in daily active travel has to be at the
forefront.

It’s appropriate then that the White House recently proclaimed September National Childhood Obesity Prevention Awareness Month.  How children get to school (and what they eat when they’re there) can help determine the obesity epidemic’s future. Kids have enjoyed biking for generations, but in today’s sedentary culture it is more important than ever for children to ride to school. Bicycling provides daily physical activity when gym classes are being cut from schools.

Rest assured that there are parents, teachers, school officials, politicians, and other professionals working hard to help more kids bike or walk to school. Six hundred leaders of the “Safe Routes to School” (SRTS) movement held a major conference in Minneapolis just in time for September’s back to school excitement. Former Congressman James Oberstar
and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybeck spoke about the importance of SRTS to current and future generations. Oberstar, the leader of the SRTS movement in Congress, called the program “An enormous force that can create a change throughout society.” You can read more about the conference on the Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s blog (the National Partnership is an affiliate of the Bikes Belong Foundation).

The Safe Routes to School movement is important for everyone in this country, child or adult. Healthier future generations mean lower healthcare costs and a more productive workforce for us all. More biking and walking to school also helps reduce traffic and pollution:  Returning to 1969 levels of walking and bicycling to school would save 3.2 billion vehicle miles, 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide and 89,000 tons of other pollutants—equal to keeping more than 250,000 cars off the road for a year. Finally, safe places for kids to ride to and from school are safe places for everyone to ride all day, every day. SRTS is something all bicyclists (and all Americans) can get behind.

  • http://velomom.com Jen

    Thanks for bringing this up on your blog. I recently posted about the joys of riding with our son to school on my blog. Last year when he started Kindergarten there was nobody riding to school. We bought a rack put it outside the school and continued to ride. This year there are always at least 10 bikes so far. We live in a very small mountain town so 10 is a great start. It only takes a few to get other to follow.

  • http://www.waistbackpack.com Waist Pack

    Since children learn much by what is modeled, I’m wondering if there are any teacher or administration initiatives to bike or walk to school, setting an example for the children? Or maybe students and teachers could even walk or bike together. Usually adults have so much “stuff” to carry back and forth to work, but perhaps that could be changed, and it would be good for adult health as well!

  • http://thebruisereport.com/ Sarai Snyder

    Agreed. We are always excited to hear about program encouraging children to ride their bikes. We are fortunate to have Safe Routes to School but there needs to be more localized action to make a difference!