'Look Mom, No Bus!' Walking to School Helps Kids Stay Fit and Have Fun

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the last 30 years, according to the Center for Disease Control, and everyone from local school board leaders to Michelle Obama has an idea about how fix the problem.

Proposals include providing healthier foods in schools, educating students about nutrition, and pressuring the private sector to create healthier snacks. But one of the most promising solutions is also one of the simplest: Just make it possible for kids to walk to school.

Funded in many neighborhoods by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, the Walking School Bus is a simple, flexible program that encourages kids to walk to school. An adult volunteer accompanies the children, making sure they stay safe, and often acting as a mentor and community-builder. As AP reporter Jennifer McDermott wrote in an article at Boston.com:

For a growing number of children in Rhode Island, Iowa and other states, the school day starts and ends in the same way—they walk with their classmates and an adult volunteer to and from school. Walking school buses are catching on in school districts nationwide because they are seen as a way to fight childhood obesity, improve attendance rates and ensure that kids get to school safely.

Ten-year-old Rosanyily Laurenz signed up for the Providence [Rhode Island] walking school bus this school year. Before, she said, she was sometimes late to school when her grandmother didn’t feel well enough to walk with her.

But now, "I get to walk with my friends," Rosanyily said. "Plus, I get snacks."

A Walking School Bus can be small and informal; only 14 children participated last year in Providence's program. But it works on a larger scale too. At its height, 450 kids from 13 districts used the Walking School Bus in Columbia, Mo. That program, founded in 2003, was shut down last year due to lack of funding.

In Sioux City, Iowa, almost 1,000 kids from 10 different school districts use the Walking School Bus to get to school. And in Kansas, Robert Johnson of the PedNet Coalition—a nonprofit organization that develops transportation alternatives—is working with 15 school districts to create what may become the biggest regional Walking School Bus program yet.

These programs help kids make exercise a part of their daily routine, encourage them to get to know each other outside of school, and foster a sense of community. (If you're interested in more details about starting a Walking School Bus in your own neighborhood, check out www.walkingschoolbus.org).

The Walking School Bus is a simple, straightforward route to better health for kids.

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