David Snyder

How community policy affects kids' health

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a new policy statement in its journal, Pediatrics, "The Built Environment: Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children" (hat tip: The Atlantic's Richard Florida). The statement reviews the research base on the impact various community aspects—such as the ability to walk to school, the decisions of where to build schools, and the prevalence of parks—have on students' physical activity. It then makes policy recommendations for pediatricians and policymakers.

One conclusion in the statement is that "changes in policy may help to increase the number of children who are able to walk to school." For educators and parents, it's important to consider the impact you can make in areas like this, even if fundamental changes such as the location of a school or the infrastructure of a neighborhood are too large for you to tackle immediately.

For example, Leadership for Healthy Communities profiled the work of school board member Cynthia Matus Morriss, of Patagonia, Ariz.:

Morriss worked with her board colleagues and the Patagonia Elementary School teachers to implement a walking school bus program.

As a very small, rural school district, many students ride the bus to school. In an innovative approach, the buses now drop the participating children off at Patagonia Town Hall, which is near the center of town. Accompanied by teachers and some community members, students have the opportunity to walk approximately a half mile to school. For students who live near the school, designated meeting points have been set up so they may join the walking school bus at various points along the route. In 2007, the program began with "Walking Wednesdays" and averaged 18 students. Because the program has been so successful during the 2008 school year, it will expand to two days a week.

Through the walking school bus program, students have learned basic safety rules, both for walking and bicycling. Not only do they get exercise, but they also have the opportunity to socialize with each other and the adults along the way. Additionally, more bicycle racks were installed at the school to increase biking to school.

Is your community designed for healthy students? What could be done to improve it?

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