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Where I live, you can tell when it's drop-off and pick-up time for school in the neighborhood. There's a buildup of SUVs, minivans and station wagons on streets. It's what many consider a safe neighborhood, where women and older people don't hesitate to take long walks in the evening on major streets. I see some kids riding their bikes or walking to and from school. But most are ferried by their parents.
It seems that walking to school regularly is increasingly becoming an antiquated concept. And yet, it may be one of the many answers to preventing the health problems that accompany excess weight in our nation.
For years, we've repeatedly heard about how kids - and parents - are not getting enough exercise every day. Physical education programs are being eliminated because of budget cuts. Parents, meanwhile, are often too busy working and being parents to squeeze in time for exercise for their own health.
Oct. 8 is Walk to School Day. California's Department of Health Services and Safe Routes to School Initiative are celebrating Walk to School Week from Oct.6-Oct. 10.
Some schools are more conducive to walking than others. California districts such as Santa Ana, Irvine, Saddleback Valley, Orange Unified, Garden Grove and Fullerton have "walking schools," those within a mile of homes.
I can understand why some parents might prefer to drive their kids. We worry they might be accosted, abducted or molested on their way to or from class. We're scared that a motorist might hit our children while they cross the street. Sometimes, the books and supplies they carry weigh them down so much, we become concerned they might develop back problems.
In some cases, it boils down to lack of time. Dropping off kids and picking them up at school saves parents time. Sometimes, it is the only option in the harried world of working parents.
But we could look at it a different way. Walking with our kids to and from school is spending time with them. It's an opportunity for conversation, for getting them ready for the day or getting the download on what happened at school.
Before we write off walking to school as a phenomenon of a bygone era, check out whether the route our kids take to school makes walking possible and enjoyable.
Try walking to school with your child one day this week, just to assess whether it's something that's possible to do more often. Before you go, take this walkability checklist adapted from a list by the California Walk to School Headquarters:
On your walk today:
Did you have a sidewalk or path for the whole trip?
How many times did you have to walk off the sidewalk or path because something was in your way?
How many streets did you cross?
Who/what helped you cross the busiest street? Choose all that apply: crossing guard, stop sign, crosswalk, traffic light, other people crossing the street, nothing.
Did some or many drivers: drive slowly and safely, waiting for you to cross the street; or did they block the crosswalk or speed through an intersection?
Did cars or buses dropping off kids make it hard for you to enter the school grounds?
Were the sidewalks clean and unbroken to make walking pleasant?
(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c) 2003, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.