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article imageStudy: Kids Should Walk to School, Cities Need to Be Built Around Pedestrians

By David Silverberg     Aug 30, 2008 in Environment
As the school year approaches, parents are wondering if they should let their young kids walk to school. A new study encourages exercise to fight obesity but city planners and school boards have to help bring a pedestrian lifestyle to children.
Digital Journal – Let your kids walk to school. That’s the declaration from Dr. Jason Gilliland, Director of the Urban Development Program at the University of Western Ontario. He recently completed a study that should hang prominently on any family’s kitchen fridge. Dr. Gilliland believes parents should allow their children to walk to school in order to combat rising obesity rates. Also, he has some advice for city planners to make this exercise possible.
Dr. Gilliland and his team surveyed 811 kids aged 11 to 13 in London, Ontario. They were surprised to find a high number of kids walked to school – 62 per cent. Some of the contributing factors towards a pedestrian tendency included the distance from home to school; “those who were farther away from the school were less likely to walk there, obviously,” says Dr. Gilliland in an interview with DigitalJournal.com.
A more intriguing factor centred on mixed land use. Neighbourhoods with various land use, such as parks and strip malls, gave kids more incentive to stroll through them. “There are things to see, there is excitement,” he adds.
Their research also found that streets lined with trees encouraged kids to walk to school. “Trees add to more shaded areas and pleasantness along the route.”
What deterred some kids from walking in the morning? High traffic areas and multiple intersections were major turnoffs, Dr. Gilliland found.
Dr. Gilliland’s study, which has yet to be published and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, also discovered that boys were 1.5 times more likely to walk to school than girls. Why? “It could be there is a longer leash on boys,” Dr. Gilliland speculates. “The attitude towards girls is modifiable and parents should empower their children to be independent.”
While there are some legitimate fears of safety, Dr. Gilliland blames the news media for perpetuating mass hysteria over kidnapping and random pedophile attacks. “Kids are smart, they know which streets and communities to avoid.”
To reverse the obesity trend, Dr. Gilliland suggests city planners and school boards take a long hard look at his study’s data. “They need to make sure more schools are within 1.6 kilometres of a child’s home,” he says, “and they shouldn’t just plop them in uniformly zoned neighbourhoods. Plant trees. Find land use that matters. And rethink closing schools and reopening them way out in suburban fields.”
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