By MELANIE VOLLICK
Not so long ago, walking to school was customary for children.
Times, however, have changed. Now the convenience of tossing the kids in the car to take them to school, either because of time constraints, concerns about traffic and safety, or simply because it’s hard to get going first thing in the morning has become the norm. Many parents, teachers and health professionals are recognizing the devastating effects that this new norm is having on our children.
As a result, schools from Collingwood, Stayner and Wasaga Beach will join millions of children during the month of October in many nations around the globe, participating in International Walk to School Day, or IWALK. IWALK is an annual event designed to address the issues of physical activity, safer communities, and environmental health.
In Ontario, the IWALK event is part of a larger active transportation initiative called Active and Safe Routes to School (ASRTS), organized locally by the Environment Network for many years. Recently, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has joined forces to help raise awareness.
ASRTS engages young students in active transportation such as walking, biking, and in-line skating as a healthy, active ways to get around. This program was launched in 1996 following the success of similar programs in the UK, Australia, and the US in
creating a healthy way for families to start their day as part of a healthy community. The ASRTS program and the Walk to School Day address province-wide concerns about the health of our children and climate change issues, including:
Obesity and inactivity, particularly among children, has been identified by the Federal Health Minister as one of the nation’s major public health challenges and one of the principal drivers of health-care spending (The Globe and Mail, April 16, 2002).
Physical activity improves self-esteem, enhances psychological well-being and academic performance, overcomes boredom, and provides positive leisure pursuits; yet two-thirds of Canadian children don’t get the 30-60 minutes of daily physical activity required for healthy development (Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, 1997), and fewer than half of Canadian children walk to school (Go for Green, 1998).
Passenger transportation accounts for 45% of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the average Canadian family. By reducing the number of short car trips (i. e. the ride to school), Canadian families can take personal action to slow climate change (Canadian Climate Change Centre, 1993).
Each year, millions of children, parents, and community leaders around the world join together to celebrate the simple yet healthy, community-building, environmentally sound practice of walking to school. IWALK provides families and communities with the chance to discover the simple joy of walking to school together.
On Wednesday, October 6th, students across Ontario and Canada are walking to school to start their day in a healthy way. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the positive effects that daily physical activity has on improving self-esteem and academic achievement. With reports of obesity among Canadians on the rise, it is crucial that we help our children establish healthy habits that will last a lifetime, such as walking to school.
According to the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (1995), two-thirds of Canadian children and youth are not currently active enough to lay a solid foundation for future health and well being. 60% of youth in Simcoe County are overweight. In fact, nationwide obesity has increased by more than 50% in children aged 6-22 in the past 16 years. Many of our young people do not have the bone density necessary to carry them through their lives. Walking and weight bearing exercise helps the body to build bone density.
Demonstrate your commitment to active modes of transportation for the entire month of October. We invite you to get out your walking shoes and join us in the celebration. For details, call the Environment Network@705-446-0551 or e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please contact, Kerri MacDonald at the Environment Network for further information, or go to www.environmentnetwork.org,and www.iwalktoschool.org,for more information about this annual event, the participants, and the organizations behind it.