According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1969, 41 percent of students walked or biked to school; by 2001, only 13 percent of students did so. The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) joins local, state and national partners in promoting Walk to School Day on October 3, 2012. Walking to school enables children to incorporate the regular physical activity they need into each day, helping them to build strong bones, muscles and joints, and to decrease the risk of obesity.
The decline in children walking to school is due to a combination of things, according to Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) research analyst Catherine J. Lillehoj, Ph.D. “Social and environmental factors all affect the likelihood of a child walking or biking to school,” said Lillehoj. “School locations lead to greater distances to walk, and increased traffic and potential crime increase the danger of getting to school.” An IDPH survey found 48 percent of parents said they were greatly worried about the amount and speed of traffic near school and 46 percent were concerned about safety near intersections.
The Iowans Walking Assessment Logistics Kit (I-WALK) is an Iowa walkability program administered by IDPH and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and implemented by 16 Iowa communities. This fall, 12 more communities are joining the program. I-WALK utilizes web mapping methodologies developed at Iowa State University and a smartphone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) to map the environment along the routes children use to walk or bicycle to school. Using the GPS information from the survey, a safe and barrier-free walking route can be identified for residents.
“Walking is an ideal fitness choice for children because it’s easy to do, can be done anywhere, and it’s free,” said Lillehoj. “However, it’s essential that walking is the easy choice. We need to ensure that walking routes are safe and accessible.” All Iowans can take participate in a walk for health during the Healthiest State Walk, also being held October 3. For more information, visit www.iowahealthieststate.com/healthiest-state-walk. For more about I-WALK, visit www.i-walk.org. To learn more about Walk to School Day, see www.walkbiketoschool.org/.