Who's walking to school?
July 4th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Who's walking to school?

Children living in urban areas and from lower-income families are more likely to walk or ride a bicycle to school, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.  Those activities have proven health benefits.

The study involved more than 7,000 children aged 6 to 16 living in Canada who were followed throughout their school years.  Among the findings: Children aged 6 to 10 were more likely to choose active transportation - walking or cycling over inactive transportation, like riding in a school bus, a car or taking public transportation.

"The study is important for the well-being of children because most children are not meeting physical activity guidelines needed for optimal growth and development," explained Roman Pabayo of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre and lead author of the study.  "Active transportation to school represents an affordable and easy way to incorporate physical activity in the daily routines of children."

Pabayo says children from lower-income families are more likely to use active transportation because they usually attend schools within walking distance of home, they have less access to cars and are less likely to attend private schools often outside of their neighborhood. In the study, the average distance children in urban areas walked was .8 kilometers–just less than half a mile. In rural areas the children studied traveled an average of 18.5 kilometers to school or about 11.5 miles.

The study shows children walking or cycling to school starts to decline at age 10. One reason could be that children are moving from elementary schools to middle schools that are not within walking distance.

"As they age, they are probably most likely to have access to a vehicle through friends and older siblings," Pabayo said. "There still is more room for children to use active transportation to school, our challenge is to raise the proportion of students that uses active transportation to school."

A study Pabayo conducted last year found children aged 6 to 8 who consistently walked or cycled to school lowered their BMI scores during a three-year period.

Pabayo acknowledges that safety is a concern. "We need interventions to help allow parents to be more comfortable allowing their kids to walk school."

soundoff (119 Responses)
  1. scmom

    I'm so tired of articles telling parents that kids need to walk to school. These people are living in the past... times have changed, crime is different, parents are different, values have changed, children have a new set of dangers... walking to school will NOT reduce the obesity rate in kids! That is like saying " eat an apple a day along with your 5 cheeseburgers to stay healthy". Please people, get real.

    July 4, 2011 at 07:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • verch

      What are these "new set of dangers"? The only thing I see is about a thousand times more paranoia coupled with 10 times the laziness.

      July 4, 2011 at 10:53 | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Do many people in SC feed their kids five cheeseburgers a day?

      July 4, 2011 at 11:08 | Report abuse |
    • JaneWhite

      Yes, times have indeed changed. Crime is WAY down in most parts of the country.

      July 4, 2011 at 12:06 | Report abuse |
    • The_Mick

      YES, walking WILL help. I coached our high school's cross country team and ran a weight-loss program for overweight teens in which the min. required was 3 miles/day of walking or running. EVERY teen that stuck it out lost weight. As far as the dangers go -both in violence and in limited pedestrian safety from cars, I agree that's a problem in some areas but I know of parent groups who walk groups of kids to school in my area, so there are ways to get things done in many cases.

      July 4, 2011 at 12:10 | Report abuse |
    • Valentijn

      Schools can also form "walking school buses", where volunteer parents walk a large group to school, picking them up at designated spots along the way.

      July 4, 2011 at 12:30 | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      My kids (ages 7 and 9) have always walked to school, but they are among the only ones who do so. I don't believe safety is the issue. Statistically, per the overall population, we have less crime than when I walked to school as a kid. I think it is the fact that many parents work, and need to get to work on time so they drive their kids to school or put them on the bus. It's more convenient. It's also laziness on the part of the kids. We have a program at my kids' school that allows kids to get off the bus one morning a week and walk the last half mile to school, accompanied by volunteer parents. All parents are screened, and there are crossing guards along the way. And the kids can walk with their friends. It's very safe. Most days, the person organizing the program has to get on the bus and BEG kids to get off and walk. On a beautiful spring day, we average about 20% of the kids who get off the bus (less on cold or rainy days). The kids are so darn lazy.

      July 5, 2011 at 07:34 | Report abuse |
    • Kana

      In some areas there may be real safety issues such as crime, traffic, etc. Over all I don't think the crime rate is a real issue. Parents still need to watch over their children.
      What is different today than 20-30 years ago is the media dissemination of information. Today we have 24\7 news coverage. If anything happens practically anywhere in the world in minutes we can read about it, we can see video coverage, etc. With out today's wide spread media coverage some of today's news events would be non issues.

      July 5, 2011 at 07:40 | Report abuse |
    • jmg

      Yes, there is some parental paranoia, but many neighborhoods do not have sidewalks anymore and there are major roads to be crossed – without crossing guards for the most part. We've all seen drivers on the road who show little regard for the lights and small children don't have the mental capacity to weigh those risks. Not to mention there are a fair number of neighborhoods where it isn't safe to have a child out alone. Yes, parents could walk the kids, but many times parents have to work and it's the daycare or sitter picking up the kid – which may not be within feasible walking distance.

      Do I think walking is best? You bet, but I also know it may not be the safest option. Schools need to have decent PE programs to help counteract the lack of physical activity kids get.

      July 5, 2011 at 10:41 | Report abuse |
  2. Mike

    no lie, when I was a kid in northern Minnesota, I really did have to walk 2 miles in the snow, -20F, to wait a half-hour for a bus.

    It was uphill only one way tho.

    July 4, 2011 at 09:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dawn

    @scmom walking DOES help reduce the obesity rate in kids, however, that's not the only thing. Proper eating habits is a must like you stated a kid(s) can walk to school than walk home but if they eat 5 cheeseburgers and watch TV during a period of time, it defeats the purpose for walking. Another point you brought up, that i agree with is that times have changed unfortunatly, for the worst. Kids can't walk if there isn't a safe sidewalk and there are alot of crazy people that prey on kids walking AlONE to school.

    July 4, 2011 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. g. davies

    This piece neglected to say that this was bit was for to-days kids living in a school district ,in the city. Not a country system where the bus was the prime mover . Like many in my day we walked miles & thought little of it , until high school we got a car. We walked because we had to , unlike to-days poor things that walking a few blocks might hurt them.

    July 4, 2011 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • trace

      The article does, actually, mention that kids that live in urban areas are more likely to walk to school because they're more likely to be within walking distance. Did you read the article?

      July 4, 2011 at 20:51 | Report abuse |
  5. erich2112x

    Just make the bus stop further from their houses than it would be to walk to school. Choice is theirs.

    July 4, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Big Bob

    There are no more crazy people looking to prey on children now then there were when we were kids. They are just reported on more because of the 24 hour news cycle. It merely serves to keep people scared and inside. Let the kids walk already.

    July 4, 2011 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Puuuleeze

    There are no more crazy people today than there were 20 years ago, just a 24-7 news cycle dependent on sensationalist, isolated stories to increase ratings to sell advertising space to processed food manufacturers. News used to be local, so if a story made headlines, it was scary because it happened close by. Now, something that happens hundred of miles away takes on the same urgency all over the place as if it happened locally. It is more dangerous to shelter your child from imaginary dangers than to teach them how to navigate their world safely and independently. Or to keep them sedentary on the couch because of imaginary kidnappers lurking in the bushes.

    July 4, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Big Bob

      Yeah! What you said...

      July 4, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
    • The Lunatic

      Absolutely correct. It's our sensationalistic journalism that makes people think it's more dangerous today.

      July 5, 2011 at 07:24 | Report abuse |
  8. hical

    if cities would build safe and efficient bike paths ... with more than a painted white stripe between the cars and the bicycles .... more children and adults would probably ride bikes to work and school. But, I admit, bicycle paths aren't as "splashy" as light rail projects .... so which gets more support from politicians?

    July 4, 2011 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Leslie

    Yes, crime is down since the 70's – in particular, there are fewer abductions. There are, however, greater distances between home and school and roads that are built only for motorized vehicles between home and school. We need to ask our decision makers to consider children's mobility when they make changes to roads and build new schools. Why shouldn't kids have the chance to skip through puddles with their friends on the way to school?

    July 4, 2011 at 17:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. cinna

    Yes, there are dangers. Yes, some areas are not always set up best for pedestrians. I want to know who says these kids, esp younger ones, are sent off by themselves? Yes, @ a certain age, they should be allowed to do so on their own (at the parents prefered age) but come on! Seriously? I walked/biked to school for years growing up, and not all the paths were ideal; some parts had no side walk, or were on/near busy streets, but if safety is taught one should be ok. Yes, danger will always loom, but one cannot live by fear 24/7. Would I let my 5yo walk to school alone, of course not, but at 10 or 12? Maybe, we will see when the time comes. Are paarents (as a whole, in general) that parinoid or is it that we/they are that lazy? Yes, some work during the times that children need transported to or from school, but no excuse if there is a family member, close friend etc that is in the area or crosses the path between the two locations. People any more are too parinoid and/or lazy and refuse to admit so. Not trying to offend anyone in saying this, just my personal opinion.

    July 4, 2011 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. The Lunatic

    I am all for walking to school. Our elementary school is literally four blocks away, but since there is one busy street to cross, the school district mandates that kids take the bus! It's ridiculous.

    July 5, 2011 at 07:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. katie

    Have you seen the little fatties getting off the buses these days?? The buses also give the little fatties door to door service. Kids need to walk and/or ride their bikes to school, where ever possible... There are way too many fat kids out there today and anything they can do to get off their little lazy butts is good for them...

    July 5, 2011 at 07:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mikeh1993

      That a big reason I hate school buses now. When I was a kid, my school bus stop was 1/4 of a mile away all through school, so my sister and I plus friends would always walk that distance twice a day, now my local school system doesn't believe in bus stops anymore and instead has buses stop in front of houses to pick up the precious kiddies no matter how old they are(I understand kindergartners through 2nd graders needing front door stops).

      My kids private school is to far away to walk or ride a bike to(over 10 miles away), but the bus also stops at the end of the driveway leading to the school in the Spring and Fall and the kids have to walk the last 1/4 mile to school if its not raining or to cold(below 40)

      July 5, 2011 at 09:11 | Report abuse |
  13. Chris

    My town where I grew up had a rule that if you lived within a mile and a half of the school you went to, you walked. This was in the 90s, too, so the crime and traffic rates were comparable to today. Once your kids are of a reasonable age (9 or so), let 'em off the apron strings a little bit.

    July 5, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. A Mom

    We have always lived within walking distance of the elementary schools that my children attend. We always walk or ride bikes unless the weather is bad. When they are young, I WALK with them to school and meet them after school until they are old enough to do it on their own. Walking does not necessarily mean sending your child out alone.

    July 5, 2011 at 10:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. BenDavis

    As more and more neighborhood elementary schools are closed due to budget cuts, do we also ask our kids to walk 23 miles to the school they are now assigned to?

    July 5, 2011 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Holley

    I walk with my daughter to school and then catch public transportation from her school to work and after work I get off public transportation at her school and walk home with her from the after school program at her school, we live about a mile from the school. We live in MN, so we only do this when it is above freezing and the sidewalks are passible.
    I am lucky in that work is accessible from public transportation.

    July 5, 2011 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Ana

    Kids do what parents decide. If parents are lazy or tooo busy they will drive kids to school. If parents prefer heathy lifestyle they will walk and kids will walk too. Lazy/fat parents = lazy fat kids – end of story.

    July 5, 2011 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. liz

    I am a teenager starting high school in the new year. Personally the idea of this terrifies me. I live in an area that is okay with only little crime. Because my school is less than 2 miles away, I am required to walk and am not issued a bus pass. I am going to have to walk through an area of our city that is not the best and crime rates are way higher. My new school is in the downtown area of my city also so traffic is really going to be a problem for me.

    July 28, 2011 at 01:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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