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

endoza's team did not compare differences in the children's body mass indexes (BMIs) over that time, so it's impossible to say that the intervention caused the kids to lose (or at least not gain) excess weight. But all participants came from low-income districts with high numbers of ethnic minorities, groups that tend to have higher levels of childhood obesity.

Study staff members took the helm of "walking school bus" groups of up to a dozen kids or more, Mendoza said, some of whom were also accompanied by parents who wanted to participate in the effort.

Programs like this are supported by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, a national organization that advocates for safe walking and bicycling to and from schools.

However, walking school bus programs are still not exceptionally common, said Dr. Silva Arslanian, chief of the weight management and wellness center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

"The results aren't surprising," she said. "The real question is what happens once you stop the activity. The important thing is to sustain a behavior, and that's always been the difficulty in obesity prevention or treatments programs."

Arslanian wasn't impressed by the fact that only 26 percent of the families who were approached for the walking school bus study decided to participate.

"A 75 percent refusal for any study is extremely high. So, are people averse to the idea of walking?" she said. "Parents are not interested because they themselves are heavy, or have other burdens. It all boils down to role modeling and expectations in your child."

Of course, walking to school versus being driven does require a bit more time -- the study showed a 38 percent jump in relative commuting time between the two groups. But Mendoza believes that parents can make "walking school bus" programs feasible by approaching them as a community endeavor.

"Usually walking school buses split up days, like carpools, so it should save
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