Getting kids healthy through Active Transportation

By Hilary Caldwell

Getting your 60 minutes a day: using active transportation to help kids meet physical activity guidelines.

Canadian kids earned a D- in physical activity in the most recent Report Card on the Physical Activity of Children, published by ParticipACTION. The results from the past 10 report cards have been equally impressive, ranging from D to F. Whatever reason used to justify these low numbers, it’s obvious that change is needed. We have to look to our families, schools, and communities for ideas on ways to enable and support kids to be be more active. When physical activity becomes the norm- the easy, accessible choice- participation will increase.

Active transportation is a great way to help increase kids’ daily physical activity. Active transportation is a key behaviour that contributes to a child’s daily physical activity (in addition to decreasing sedentary/screen time, increasing active play and increasing organized sport and physical activity participation). By walking, biking, or wheeling to school and other locations in their communities, kids will engage in more physical activity every day. Recent research showed that only a quarter of Canadian schoolchildren reported using active modes of transportation to travel to and from school. From 2000 to 2010, the percentage of kids using active modes decreased and the percentage using inactive modes increased.

Benefits of active transportation:

* Kids who use active transportation to travel to school are more active throughout the entire day than kids who are driven to and from school, adding as much as 45 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to a child’s day.

o The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for school-age kids recommends kids take part in 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day, and active transportation can easily help kids meet this guideline.

* Published studies show that says kids who bike to school have better fitness levels than kids who are driven to and from school.

* 40% of 9-to-12 year olds in Toronto would prefer to bike to school, but only 2-3% of these kids actually do it.

* Reduces green house gas emission and pollutants.

* More cost-effective than driving.

There are often concerns about safety when kids engage in active transportation which are most often related to the built environment (including sidewalks, traffic lights, etc.). There is also a risk of increased bullying during active transportation because it is usually an unsupervised time for older kids.

Strategies to increase active transportation:

* Lead by example- if kids see adults engaging in safe, regular active transportation, they’re more likely to want to try it too.

* Stay comfortable by wearing proper shoes, a comfortable backpack and appropriate clothing for the weather.

* Pledge to use active transportation for short trips- leave the cars, strollers and

wagons at home.

* Promote schools and business to install bike racks.

* Add traffic calming measures near schools and other places kids go, such as: speed bumps, narrower intersections, lower speed limits, increased signage and adding more crossing guards.

* Initiate bullying prevention strategies at home and at school, such as having kids walk in groups, or supervised by older siblings, students or parents. It is also important to remind students to report bullying to teachers and parents.

* Organize a walking school bus. For rural areas where active transportation isn’t feasible, the bus could stop a few blocks from school and the kids could walk the rest of the way together. The walking school bus could be as casual as meeting at a corner to walk together, or more organized with a schedule and multiple stops.

With a bit of extra preparation and effort, engaging in more active transportation is a great way to help kids meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Meeting physical activity guidelines is related to many health benefits, and more physical activity provides even more health benefits. Parents, schools, communities and municipalities all play a role to help kids increase active transportation, and together can move to make active transportation the easy, safe choice in our communities.

References:

Cozma I, Kukaswadia A, Janssen I, Craig W & Pickett W. (2015) Active transportation and bullying in Canadian schoolchildren: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health, 15(99): 1-7.

Janssen I & LeBlanc AG. (2010). Systematic review of he health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-aged children and youth. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, 7(40):1-16.

LaRouche R, Stone M, Builung RN & Faulker G. “I’d rather bike to school!”: Profiling children who would prefer to cycle to school. Journal of Transport and School, In Press.

ParticipACTION. Are Canadian kids too tired to move?The 2016 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto: ParticipACTION; 2016.

ParticipACTION. The Biggest Risk is Keeping Kids Indoors. The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto: ParticipACTION; 2015.

Hilary Caldwell holds a Master of Science in Kinesiology and conducts research in this area related to physical  activity, fitness and physical literacy in preschool and school-age children.

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