"An hour a day of walking can help prevent childhood obesity"
Scott Gee, MD

National Walk to School Day Promotes Safe Walking, Bicycling

Over 80 schools throughout Texas participated in National Walk to School Day activities on October 8. The event is promoted by the National Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program and is aimed at drawing communities and schools together to combat the problem of childhood obesity by encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle.

"We've seen a drastic decline in the number of children walking and bicycling to school in the U.S.—down from about 50% forty years ago, to just 15% today. Walk to School Day can be a first step in reversing that trend and is a great way for a school to generate interest in the Safe Routes to School Program," says Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) Senior Administrative Coordinator Michelle Hoelscher, who also coordinates the SRTS Texas Network.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the costs attributed to obesity for 2001 were estimated at $10.5 billion and are projected to reach $15.6 billion by 2010. Approximately 35% of Texas school-age children are overweight or obese.

One of the signature events of National Walk to School Day is the "walking school bus," which are groups of children who walk designated routes to school under adult supervision, picking up kids along the way just like a bus. For some neighborhoods it's a casual group walk, while others set up a formal plan with adults scheduled to walk on certain days.

TTI assists the Texas Department of Transportation in SRTS communication and outreach efforts and also leads the SRTS State Network project. The objective of the SRTS State Network is to set goals, share best practices, secure funding and provide educational materials to agencies that implement SRTS programs.

"Safe Routes to School has a proven track record throughout the country of increasing the number of kids walking and cycling to school," says TTI Research Scientist Melissa Walden. "We are excited to be a part of this initiative and making a real difference at the community level."