• Sun October 07 2007
  • Posted Oct 7, 2007
BY TIM LANE SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER Tim Lane is the senior fitness consultant at the Iowa Department of Public Health and publishes a daily electronic publication, FITNET, that goes to more than 300,000 readers. Lane is a veteran of 33 RAGBRAIs, a coach and an enthusiastic promoter of active lifestyles. Today is Walk To School Day, so Tim Lane discusses a program called Walking School Bus. That is a group of kids who walk or bike to school together with adult supervision. A model program has adults in front of and tailing the students, but smaller efforts often run smoothly with just one adult. Q. What are the benefits of a Walking School Bus? A. School zones have become more congested with cars, increasing the likelihood of accidents. Children also have increased their screen time and caloric input and are spending less time in physical education class. Walking or biking in a group to school supervised by adults: - Delivers children to school better prepared to learn. - Adds activity to days. - Reduces greenhouse gases. - Creates a safer environment for those children and other pedestrians. Q. How many children walk to school now? A. Sixteen percent walk or bicycle to school, compared with 42 percent in the late 1960s. Q. Does that really affect traffic? A. This shift increased morning traffic by 20 percent to 25 percent in many communities. Q. Can walking to school improve the weight and health of children? A. Every step helps. The incidence of childhood obesity went from 4 percent in 1963-1970 to 16 percent in 1999-2002. Not all of that can be attributed to the increase in driving kids to school, but it's part of the problem. Q. What do you mean by "better prepared to learn?" A. More studies point to a direct correlation between physical activity and brain development. Not only is cell growth stimulated by physical activity, but the increased flow of oxygen to the brain helps it function better. Q. How can I start a Walking School Bus? A. Start with your child, but there are advantages to inviting others. More participants means it is safer and more convenient. It's like a carpool - without the car - but with the benefits of exercise and visits with neighbors. Q. How do I know if it's safe or feasible to do this? A. A checklist is available at This covers the condition of sidewalks and street crossings, behavior and speed of drivers, dog, and visibility. If there is a "controlled" crossing or heavy cross traffic with no lights, creating a safe route requires planning. Q. Are there any such efforts in the Des Moines area? A. Yes. In many neighborhoods, parents have opted to walk with children and their friends. In Johnston, a group of 10-year-old boys decided on their own that biking to school would be a great way to start their day. Walk to School Day is expected to include 5,000 schools from all 50 states. Q. What are other Iowa communities doing? A. Last year, the Story County Healthy Lifestyle Taskforce piloted an effort for one school that featured maps and times posted along the route. ISU students assisted as walking conductors. Typically, several parents who have formed carpools are now walking rather than driving. Q. Should all parents consider walking their children to school? A. Yes, although many may make a sound choice not to do so. Some areas are not safe for walking. There may be problems with dogs, high-crime areas, long distances, and lack of sidewalks and safe crossings. But all parents should be considering their children's levels of activity and finding ways that the entire family can be fit for life. Q. How much physical activity do kids and adults need daily? A. Our children need more than we adults do. The Surgeon General recommends more than 60 minutes for youth and at least 30 minutes for adults. For someone who has been sedentary, getting 10 minutes a day is a good starting point. For someone interested in losing weight, getting more than the recommended amount is advisable. Q. Where can I get more information? A. Log on to Department of Transportation funds available to schools and communities to create safe routes are detailed at

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