What are the health benefits for children who walk or bicycle to school?

Two recent studies have found that walking to school is associated with higher overall physical activity throughout the day.(1)(2) There are many potential benefits of physical activity for youth including(3)(4):

  • Weight and blood pressure control
  • Bone, muscle, and joint health and maintenance
  • Reduction in the risk of diabetes
  • Improved psychological welfare
  • Better academic performance(5)

Walking and bicycling to school also may help contribute to the developmental health of children. Some children today have less independence than their parents did and this lack of independence can negatively impact their social behavior development.(6) Driving a child from home to school limits the child's opportunities to interact with their neighborhood and other children. Children who spend more time in supervised structured activities have fewer opportunities to explore their neighborhoods. Children may lose some relatively "safe" opportunities to make decisions independently. They miss some of the lessons gained from learning from mistakes and the confidence that comes with success.(7) Questions also have been raised regarding how children who spend all their travel time in motor vehicles will master fundamental pedestrian and bicycling skills and what kind of drivers they will become because of their lack of experience negotiating traffic as walkers or bicyclists.

1) Alexander et al., The broader impact of walking to school among adolescents. BMJonline. Accessed 9/16/05 at bmj.bmjjournals.com

2) Cooper et al., Commuting to school: Are children who walk more physically active? Am J Prev Med 2003: 25 (4)

3) American Heart Association. Exercise (Physical Activity and Children). Accessed 9/16/05 at www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4596.

4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Importance of Regular Physical Activity for Children. Accessed 9/16/05 at http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/kidswalk/health_benefits.htm.

5) California Department of Education. A study of the relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement in California using 2004 test results. Accessed 9/16/05 at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/pf/documents/2004pftresults.doc.

6) Huttenmoser M. Children and Their Living Surroundings: Empirical Investigations into the Significance of Living Surroundings for the Everyday Life and Development of Children. Children's Environments 1995 December; 12(4), Available: http://www.colorado.edu/journals/cye/CYE_BackIssues/. Accessed January 17, 2006.

7) Hillman M. The Impact of Transport Policy on Children's Development. Presentation at the Canterbury Safe Routes to Schools Project Seminar, London U.K. May 29, 1999. Available: http://www.spokeseastkent.org.uk/mayer.htm. Accessed: January 17, 2006.

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