Written by Sidney Murphy, HealthDay Reporter
FRIDAY, Sept. 9, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Recent research suggests that children who walk or ride their bikes to school when they are young are more likely to keep going as they get older, and reap the health benefits.
“A walk to school is a wonderful moment in the day that offers children a glimpse into living an active lifestyle,” said study co-author David Tollock, professor of landscape architecture at Rutgers University-New Brunswick in New Jersey. “When people start walking early, it can have a lasting impact on their health.”
About 11% of children in the United States walk or ride their bikes to and from school, according to the National Household Travel Survey. This rate has not changed in a decade.
In the study, researchers found that children were more likely to continue “active mobility” (traveling by foot, bike or even skateboard) if they were taught to do so when they were young.
To see if active commuting would remain the same over time, the researchers asked parents and caregivers about their children’s school travel habits twice — between two to four years — between 2009 and 2017. The families lived in Camden, New Brunswick, Newark and Trenton, which are mostly cities Low income in New Jersey.
Tollock and his team discovered how far the school was and took note of the surrounding area.
The investigators found that more than 75% of children who did active mobility at the start of the study continued to do so two to four years later. And a few who had not done so before began active mobility when the researchers followed up.
The study found that those who cycled, walked or skated to school initially were seven times more likely to do so after two to four years.
“Most children do not achieve the recommended 60 minutes per day of physical activity,” said lead author Robin DeWeese, associate research professor at Arizona State University. “An active transition to school is one way to get more out of this activity.”
To increase active mobility, DeWeese suggests that schools and communities encourage it in the early grades because it may continue to help students later.
Commuting methods vary depending on demographics and neighborhood perceptions. Children whose parents were born outside the United States were less likely to walk or bike to school than those who were born in the United States. Children whose parents deemed their neighborhood safe were 2.5 times more likely to walk or cycle to school.
Tulloch said the distance between home and school had the biggest and most consistent effect on commuting. The distance to school often increases as children get older and the likelihood of active commuting decreases once they reach secondary school age.
Tulloch said smarter urban design could help reverse this trend. Remote drop-offs and “walking school buses” (groups of students accompanied by volunteer parents) can encourage children to move around actively at an early age. Tulloch added that infrastructure improvements, such as sidewalks and tree-lined streets, could make walking more enjoyable.
“One of the most visited tourist sites in New York City is the High Line, a green place to walk without cars,” Tulloch said in a university news release. “We should be doing this kind of planning everywhere – especially in school districts.”
The results were published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports .
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more statistics on physical activity behavior in children.
Source: Rutgers University, press release, September 6, 2022