Hop on a walking school bus to cut obesity

The big yellow school bus may be a thing of the past as a program kicking off around the world, dubbed the walking school bus, is boosting activity rates, reducing traffic, and cutting obesity risks, researchers find.

A walking school bus is an organized group of kids either walking or cycling to school along with an adult supervisor and picked up at designated stops along the way.

While the concept launched a few years ago and is growing in popularity in communities around the globe, according to WebMD, new research published August 22 in the journal Pediatrics provides some empirical evidence of its success.

In a study of 149 fourth grade school children in Houston, Texas, researchers found that children who participated in a walking school bus program were twice as likely to continue "active commuting" - meaning opting for people-powered transportation rather than automobiles - and increased their daily activity of moderate-to-vigorous activity by seven minutes per day. In the control group, kids who did not participate in a walking school bus program showed a decrease in daily moderate physical activity over the five-week period of the study.

Unlike previous studies on walking to school, many of the children were ethnic minorities and came from low-income households, the researchers noted. All of the children lived within a mile of their school.

Live too far for your child to walk? Some programs will pick up children in buses but drop them off a mile or two from school, giving them an opportunity to gain some fresh air and exercise before the first bell rings.

Interested in finding out more about a walking school bus program in your area, or want to start one? October is International Walk to School Month, and the website offers information, ideas, resources, and suggestions on finding safe walking routes to schools.

See a walking school bus in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7GpC9km8sY