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."

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.