Walking, biking to school can help overcome obesity

Monday, August 20, 2007

Backpack? Check. Pencils, pens? Check. Notebook? Check.

Walking shoes?

According to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, good walking shoes should be as much a part of school equipment as boxer shorts and cell phones.

The group points out that approximately 24 million children in the United States are overweight or at risk of being overweight. That's more than a third of children and adolescents, more than triple the obesity rate from 20 years ago.

So what?

Well, besides the social stigma of being overweight, there are more serious health concerns.

* Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in children -- it used to occur only in adults.

* Obese children frequently develop orthopedic problems, liver disease and asthma.

* Many obese children have cholesterol and blood pressure levels high enough to put them at risk for heart disease.

* Obese children are at risk for sleep apnea, which can affect their learning and memory.

* Many obese children will become obese adults, who are high risk for deadly heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer.

How did this happen?

Mainly, our culture -- not just the kids -- got lazy. We spend too much time in front of the television or computer. In fact, the National Institute of Health estimates that half of children age 8-16 watch three to five hours of television every day. That doesn't leave much time for kids to get the hour of physical activity the Surgeon General recommends.

There's one easy way to get more exercise, according to the Nebraska Department of Roads, which is promoting its Safe Routes to School program through federal funding of local projects.

The project, which provided $140,200 to Maywood Public Schools and $8,761 to McCook Public Schools for a Walk to School Program, is designed to encourage children to walk to school by providing safe routes and safety training.

In 1969, 42 percent of children walked or biked to school, and by 2001, that declined to only 16 percent.

So let's do all we can to enable children to walk or bike to school. Travel with them to point out hazards and correct ways to cross busy streets and intersections.

Not only will they get more exercise, it will reduce congestion around the school in the morning.

And while we're at it, consider walking to work or exercising on our lunch break, if our situation and time allows.

A little effort now can result in healthy habits for our children for years into the future.

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