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Driving to school may play role in childhood obesity

By Mary Richards | Posted - Dec. 8, 2011 at 11:36 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Since the 1960s, childhood obesity rates have tripled. But the number of children walking, riding a bike or scooter to school in that time has dropped from 41 percent to 13 percent.

A new study out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests that many kids may be overweight in this country because they've stopped walking or biking to school.

UDOT's Safe Route Program was originally funded because of rising obesity rates according to its Coordinator, Cherissa Wood.

Walk More in Four
Safety Tips
  • Ask principal for a copy of school's SNAP Map.
  • Correctly wear a well-fitted safety- certified helmet when riding a bicycle.
  • Never walk or ride with headphones.
  • When using an umbrella, don't allow it to block view of traffic and signs. Use a bright umbrella so you can be seen easier.
  • Wear bright colored clothing or tie a bright handkerchief around backpack, especially when riding bicycles.
  • Organize a "walking school bus" or "bike train" in your neighborhood: Parents take turns being the "driver" and walking children to/from school.

"Walking and biking to school is a huge component of helping increase physical activity among children," she said.

According to Wood, the interest is there. They estimate 40,000 students took part in the "Walk More in Four" incentive program they offered this fall. (link to our story on this??)

"Kids do want to walk," Wood said. "Of course it helps to offer the incentives we offer as part of the program, but I think it also just sets a trend."

But there are those obstacles. Wood believes parents are a big part of that.

"(It's) parents desire to keep their kids safe both with the traffic and with stranger danger," she said.

They also may not have time or feel the school is too far for their child to go by foot or bike safely without an adult.

"I think everyone knows that physical activity is important, but they don't know how to go about teaching kids and others bike and pedestrian safety," Wood said.

UDOT offers the Student Neighborhood Access Program. SNAP gives school administrators, parents and crossing guards tools and maps to encourage more walking, bike or scooter use among children. One such tool SNAP encourages families to use is having parents organize a "walking bus," where they talk turns being a "bus driver" and leading a group of kids to school in the mornings.

There are also high-energy assemblies from UDOT and SNAP. Wood said they've reached 80,000 students around the state.


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