Fewer kids hoofing it to class: linking research and action

Kids to class“I walked 3 uphill miles in the snow to get to school!”  Many of us have heard these tales, but in my Dad’s case, it was true.  I recently visited the site of his long, meandering, nature-filled path to and from elementary school.  And the stories of his scholarly treks were infused with mischief, adventure, and at the end, one giant appetite. But these days, fewer kids use their feet to get to class.

The other day I shared a  news story  via twiiter and facebook about  a study showing that fewer Canadian children use physical activity as a means of getting to school.  According to the study (by Roman Pabayo and published in the journal Pediatrics), trends in walking and biking patterns  weren’t simply about personal choice but were associated with space, urban planning, socioeconomic status and even single parenthood.

Our modes of daily commuting impact more than childhood memories and are linked to child health (See “Urban Planning is a Health Issue” by Dr. David Mowat) .   For example, a 3-year study by the Clinical Institute of Evaluative Sciences , of 41 Toronto neighbourhoods, found that neighbourhood walkabilty and activity-friendliness were associated with lower diabetes rates, especially in  lower income neighbourhoods .

Many of you wrote in to highlight some great programs happening in Canada that are working to support happy, leg-fueled journeys to school.  I have shared some of them below and invite more discussion on the relationship between the built environment and children’s health.

Children’s Mobility, Health and Happiness: a Canadian School Travel Planning Model
A 27-month project funded through the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer’s CLASP (Coalitions Linking Action and Science for Prevention) initiative and the Public Health Agency of Canada began in January of 2010. This project will expand School Travel Planning across Canada, amplify work with the University of Toronto on links between School Travel Planning and the built environment, and introduce and apply Cape Breton University’s ground-breaking research into the links between active transportation, sustainable happiness, education and health. This funding will allow 120 schools across the country to participate in the STP process, beginning in the 2010-11 school year.

Stepping It Up
Stepping it Up, a Metrolinx pilot project, is now underway in Hamilton and the Region of Peel. Up to 30 Hamilton and Peel Region elementary schools will be involved in the pilot, which is supported by Transport Canada’s ecoMOBILITY program. Additional expertise and support is provided by Green Communities Canada and the University of Toronto.

School Travel Planning Research in Canada
In 2006, Green Communities Canada conducted extensive international research into School Travel Planning, culminating in a report called Review of International School Travel Planning Best Practices. This research was supported by Transport Canada’s Moving on Sustainable Transportation (MOST) initiative and it informed the Canadian pilot test (funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada) that established best practices in Canada and set the foundation for current projects across the nation. In March 2010, Green Communities Canada updated the international best practices document, with funding support from Metrolinx and Transport Canada’s ecoMOBILITY program: