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Back to school – walk your child's route to school

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from DHPE

On September 9, 2016

PHOTO: Courtesy/CDC.gov

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – It is back to school time and parents and students are getting acclimated to new schools. Part of that process is determining the best route to get there. If the school is not that far, why not walk your child to school? This daily activity can have exponential health benefits for both parent and child. 

"Physical inactivity during childhood can lead to many preventable chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease," said Dr. Steve Owens, Associate Executive Director, Directors of Health Promotion and Education (DHPE). "All communities should welcome opportunities that encourage their children to be more physically active." Dr. Owens is the principal investigator of the DHPE's National Implementation and Dissemination for Chronic Disease Prevention grant that is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Community Health.

By taking a walk to school with your child through your neighborhood, parents foster a sense of community, as well as becoming alert to prepare your child for any unforeseen dangers. These evaluation walks –  officially referred to as walkability assessments – have been every effective in Columbus, Indiana, where the entire third grade at Parkside Elementary conducted their own. With some instruction and guidance from the American Planning Association (APA) and the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, the students learned to identify and avoid dangerous traffic and environmental elements on their walks to school. 

Actions like these are the benefits of the CDC's National Implementation and Dissemination for Chronic Disease Prevention (NIDCDP) Program. The NIDCDP Program is a nationwide effort to prevent and control chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, through population-based strategies at the community level. Five national organizations, including the DHPE and APA, are in a partnership to implement the three-year NIDCDP Program in 97 communities across the country in 37 states with $28 million in funding provided by the CDC.

"Ensuring kids have safe routes to walk and bike to school is as important to their health as making sure they have healthy food to eat and clean air to breathe," said Anna Ricklin, AICP, Planning and Community Health Center Manager, APA, which is one of the national organizations of the NIDCDP, along with DHPE. "It starts with well-maintained sidewalks, kid-friendly wayfinding, and simple amenities like bike racks at schools." 

Without these features, pedestrian fatalities can rise to the heights of St. Louis, Missouri where 36 percent of fatal accidents affected pedestrians. In response, the APA Missouri Chapter held traffic calming demonstrations for residents at intersections that were severely hazardous to pedestrians and showed how medians and roundabouts fostered better safety and healthier living for the entire community. Successful walkability assessments of safe routes to schools that resulted in the design and implementation of pedestrian plans have also taken place through APA Chapters in Columbus and Indianapolis, Indiana. 

Concerned parents should walk to school with their child even before the national observance of Walk to School Day on October 5, 2016. Community health advocates may support these parents by helping them select a route that has uninterrupted sidewalks, barriers from on-coming traffic, speed bumps, and identify cross-walk safety with children. To learn more about safe routes to schools or coordinating a Walk to School Day event on October 5, go to walkbiketoschool.org. Community health advocates and parents interested in joining the national conversation related to improving community health through physical activity opportunities may participate at 1p.m. EST in the Walk to School Day Twitter Chat on October 5, that will be hosted by DHPE and the National Physical Activity Society.

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