On the School Front

Two articles caught my eye in the food/health sections today, both having to do with school-age children. The first, “Students Give Up Wheels for Their Own Two Feet” talked about a movement started in Italy to get children back into walking to school. The children travel on “bus routes” with a “driver” – they’re really being walked to school in a group by a staff member. (In Chinese, people say “I took the number 11 bus,” meaning “I walked,” the two legs resembling the number 11.) Apparently the children are sometimes more excited about the walk than their parents – the number of children “riding the bus” increases during snowy days! And they are quite proud to not only be walking for exercise (the program started as a response to increasing obesity rates), but also to be doing something for the environment.

This caught my attention because at our neighborhood elementary school, although you’ll see a number of children being walked in by assorted relatives, most are being driven and on days when the train cuts off traffic for a few minutes, the dropoff line of idling cars can stretch down the block and around the corner. I know that many parents drop their children on the way to work, some have to go to multiple schools to drop off more than one child, some neighborhoods are just not safe, there are a million other reasons to drive. But really, if your child attends a neighborhood school, isn’t part of the benefit that it’s close enough that you can walk him or her there? I suspect, sadly, that much of the driving is just habit. As Roger L. Mackett, a professor at the Center for Transport Studies at University College in London comments in the article, “It’s quite a lot of effort to keep it going,” he said. “It’s always easier to put children in the back of the car. Once you’ve got your two or three cars, it takes effort not to use them.” (For more on that, see Maureen Dowd’s op/ed piece, “No More Hummer Nation”!) Maybe getting into the habit of getting up a few minutes earlier and walking the kids to school would be healthier for the entire family – something to ponder for next year’s Lent? Maybe it would become a habit and driving would no longer seem like the only option.

The second piece is also about school children – Tara Parker-Pope’s blog entry on “Slowing Down School Lunches”, in which she interviews Dr. Arthur Agatston, cardiologist and creator of the South Beach Diet, about what should be done to make school lunches healthier. The interview is definitely worth a read, and I love the conclusion:

School is the center. Remember those stop smoking campaigns that were taught at school? Kids would come home and throw parents’ cigarettes away. School is where you have the kids. School can be the most efficient way to spread good habits. I think having the kids sit at a family table and get used to it at schools — and then bring the parents in to encourage that at home — that would be huge.

Also check out the link to Agatston’s research foundation findings at http://agatstonresearchfoundation.org/HOPS_Study_Preliminary_Results_HOPS_1_and_HOPS_2.pdf.

It’s good to see schools trying to help with obesity and healthy eating – let’s make sure we start the trend at home and support what they’re doing!

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