Walking to school is good for everyone
Getting kids ready to go to school in the morning can be a major hassle, from dragging them out of bed to preparing lunches to racing out of the driveway to make it to class on time. However, according to a group of Belgian researchers, letting students take their time and walk to school has tangible health benefits and, more incredibly, both parents and students alike may actually be willing to do it.
In a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, physicians from the University of Ghent and the Flanders Research Foundation took a look at the feasibility of shifting drop-off locations away from the main entrances of schools, making children walk farther in order to get to class. The program was inspired parents complaining that their children could not walk to school due to distance but still could use extra physical activity.
After establishing a pilot program, the researchers analyzed data from surveys and step counters and saw a measurable increase in the amount of steps students were taking without much extra work on the part of teachers or school administrators.
“This pilot study showed that implementing drop-off spots might be an effective intervention to promote children’s walking to school,” the authors, led by Dr. Griet Vanwolleghem of the University of Ghent, wrote in the study. “Implementing drop-off spots does not require major effort from the school and the schools can choose how and when they organize drop-off spots.”
Researchers chose two schools to pilot the program, setting up drop-off spots 500-800 meters away from the front doors. The researchers then monitored children’s step counts before and after school hours to judge the physical benefits of the increased walking distance. Students who participated in the program took 732 extra steps per day on average, 6% of the recommended 12,000 steps children should take every day according to research published by the American College of Sports Medicine.
“Exercise is particularly important for children,” says Dr. Dave Farnsworth, pediatrician with Advocate Medical Group in Burbank, Ill. “Habits that are developed in childhood often persist through adulthood. A child who is used to being active has a greater chance of remaining active as an adult.”
In addition to monitoring the benefits of more steps, the study also examined the sentiments of parents and educators towards the program. Parents were generally positive towards drop-off initiatives, noting that they saw an increase in activity and social interaction from their children as they walked to school. Additionally, parents also responded that they had more time in the mornings as a result of not having to wait in traffic to drop off their children.
While the health benefits were obvious, both parents and teachers expressed concerns over safety and advised that adult supervision should be provided for younger students – while the study was successful in Belgium, Dr. Farnsworth notes that something similar in a high-crime area like Chicago’s South Side would be considerably more difficult to implement. Additionally, the authors observed that teachers did have some reservations about the extra work involved in monitoring students walking to and from the drop-off points.
Despite the concerns, the researchers remain hopeful that what they learned in this pilot program can be used to refine and improve future initiatives to get kids moving and healthy, something Dr. Fansworth sees as a good start.
“Any program that gets children moving is a good idea, but this is just one small step towards that,” Dr. Farnsworth says.
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