"We really need to see if the program is having similar effects elsewhere, outside of New York City," DiMaggio said.
Nationally, the Safe Routes to School program allocated $612 million between 2005 and 2009 for states to improve sidewalks, streets and traffic patterns around schools. A program progress report released in August 2011 showed that 10,400 schools in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., had Safe Routes to School programs in place and that an estimated 4.8 million children were affected by the program.
New York City used its share of Safe Routes to School money to target 124 schools with the highest traffic injury rates; as of 2009, 30 schools had at least some safety measures in place.
DiMaggio's team found that fewer children at those 30 schools were struck by vehicles in 2009 and 2010 compared with the period from 2001 to 2008.
During the before- and after-school hours when kids are on the street, the traffic injury rate among children and teens fell from eight per 10,000 to 4.4 per 10,000 -- a 44 percent drop.
In contrast, the injury rate held steady around schools that had not received any safety improvements.
Dr. Karen Sheehan is medical director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. She said, "One of the concerns of public health advocates has been, if we get children walking more to decrease obesity, are we putting them at risk for getting hit by a car because they will have more opportunities to be hurt?
"But this study shows that there are structural changes we can do to keep kids safe," said Sheehan, who was not involved in the study.
DiMaggio agreed that the goals of getting kids outside to exercise and keeping them safe "need not be at odds."
"You can do both
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