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Editorial: Walking to school is a smart choice

OK, so parents might’ve exaggerated when they told their kids they trudged many miles to school – uphill, both ways – but they probably did walk. And it was good for them.

Half of students nationwide walked or biked to school in 1969, as The Spokesman-Review reported on Thursday. That figure dropped to 13 percent by 2009. We don’t imagine that trend has reversed, given the mini-traffic jams around schools each morning and afternoon caused by parental chauffeurs.

Students are eligible for bus rides if they live a mile or more from their school. For those living closer, that’s a manageable walk or bike ride. Sadly, it might be the only exercise some children get outside of school recess and gym classes. Health experts recommend children get at least an hour of physical activity per day. Walking to and from school provides a nice aerobic workout.

Unfortunately, many kids get a ride home and then plop down with electronic devices or television.

Since the 1970s, childhood obesity rates have tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 20 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 are obese, and that leads to a host of negative outcomes. According to the CDC, they include:

  • “A higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases that impact physical health, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes and risk factors for heart disease.”
  • Being “bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers, and more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression and lower self-esteem.”
  • A greater chance of adult obesity, “which is linked to serious conditions and diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and several types of cancer.”

Granted, some neighborhoods in these car-centric times weren’t designed for walking, and crumbling sidewalks (if they exist at all) are a problem. The city is working to improve safety near schools, with improved curbs, sidewalks, crosswalks and re-engineered intersections.

Increased enforcement of speed limits in school zones will help, too.

The Walking School Bus, an initiative spearheaded by the Spokane Regional Health District, should also ease safety concerns. Under this program, adult volunteers serve as chaperones to groups of children walking to schools. Ninety-five parents have signed up so far to accompany students walking to Stevens, Holmes, Bemiss, Logan and Seth Woodard elementary schools in Spokane.

It’s a great idea, for health and safety. May it spread throughout the region. As more children walk to school, fewer cars will be on the roads to pose a risk, which may encourage more parents to let their kids walk.

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll get back to past pedestrian levels, and students today can tell their kids how they used to walk to school – uphill, both ways.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”


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