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Walk-to-School Programs Put Kids' Fitness First
Date:8/26/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Saying "no" to the school bus and walking kids to school instead could be a step -- or more -- toward boosting children's activity levels, a new study shows.

Texas researchers split a group of 149 fourth-graders from eight schools in Houston into active commuters -- those who walked to and from school up to five days a week -- and a control group who were driven by bus or car. At the beginning of the study, both groups had logged similar amounts of moderate to vigorous activity, about 46 to 49 minutes per day.

But over the next five weeks, the kids who walked to school upped their activity slightly -- an average of 7 extra minutes per day of moderate to vigorous exercise. In contrast, those who got driven to school actually lowered their daily activity over the study period, to an average of 41 minutes daily.

While the activity increase for walkers may seem modest, study author Dr. Jason Mendoza said that even small amounts of exercise are meaningful in a country with a 17 percent obesity rate for kids under age 19. About a third of adult Americans are obese, and another third are classified as overweight.

"It's not like they're going to the gym to work out," said Mendoza, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "It's something they can build into their days without a lot of extra effort or equipment."

The study is published in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Because of a "car-centric" society that favors wider roads and fewer sidewalks -- as well as a heightened fear of abductions by strangers -- far fewer kids walk to school than was the case four decades ago. According to study authors, 42 percent of children actively commuted (walked or biked) to school in 1969-70, compared to only 13 percent in 2009.

Because of the brevity of the study period, M
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