There was a recent study that was in the December 13th issue of Time Magazine. In the article it had some disturbing statistics about school transportation and obesity.
The study found that in 1969 only twelve percent of elementary school aged children were driven to school. Forty-nine percent actually rode their bikes or walked to school. The rate of childhood obesity back in 1969 was less than one percent.
Fast forward to 2008/2009 and we have forty-four percent of the children being driven to school, thirteen percent are riding bikes or walking to school and the obesity rate for children is over nineteen percent. Sense a pattern?
Why the change in how a child gets to school? There are a number of reasons; especially here in the Raleigh area. For one, we started building bigger elementary schools between neighborhoods and not as many smaller schools to cut costs. This meant that the neighborhood schools were being left in the dust for the sake of budgetary constraints. That being said, the budgetary constraints have gotten worse through the years and the bigger schools make more sense.
Another reason for the change involves the roadways and how they are being designed. Our roads are now wider, to reduce congestion and allow for more cars. Because of this, schools are now being built on side streets for safety reasons and away from the rushing traffic of say Louisburg Road. It makes sense from a safety standpoint but the correlation of obesity in our elementary school children and how they get to school can’t be ignored.
Obesity causes all sorts of health issues from diabetes, heart problems, circulation issues and even puberty issues. And while the causes of childhood obesity seem pretty straight forward, the fact that are children are no longer riding bikes to school or walking has been something that has been overlooked. We haven’t really thought about all the ways our children get exercise.
Kids no longer skateboard or walk to a friend’s house as often as we used to. We drop them off on the way to run errands. On a rainy day we are not as inclined as our parents were to bring them to a roller rink or Raleigh Iceplex to let off some energy because we’re exhausted from working all week. In the summer we’re more concerned with their constant learning and not falling behind in academics than we are with making sure they get out in the sunshine and have fun. We have forced our kids to be drones; to their own detriment. I am not saying all parents are doing this, this is the trend more than anything else.
So what can we do about it? Obviously with budget cuts in all areas of life, we can’t expect Wake County Schools to start making smaller schools just because we want our children to walk to school; however ideal that may sound. The larger schools are here to stay but the idea of neighborhood schools has become closer to reality. Now we just wait and see how that all plays out.
As for other ideas, have your child walk and play as much as possible and make sure they eat healthy. Instead of chip bags and soda in their lunches, give them carrots, fruit or cheese paired with real fruit juice or milk. Stay away from the Lunchables as much as possible. I know, easier said than done. They are packed with preservatives, salt and all kinds of fillers children don’t need. For a change of pace, instead of making sandwiches with white bread, buy whole wheat tortillas and make roll ups. Same amount or work and kids really like them.
Limit the video and television time too; especially on weekends. Give your children the option as when they want to play the games but remind them they only get two hours for that day and stick to it!! Force them outside, have puzzles around, or let them come up with ideas on what they can do that doesn’t involve the television or computer. While they’ll put up a fuss the first couple of times, they’ll get used to it and actually start planning in advance.
With child obesity on the rise every year, we really need to pay attention to what they’re doing and eating. As parents it is our responsibility to make sure we raise healthy children. The sooner we start the better!