BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A step in the right direction

Walk limits making strides towards improved health among our children

Some students may have been secretively relieved the teachers’ strike brought classes to a premature end.

After all, it meant they wouldn’t spend the last few days before summer power-walking to meet the first bell because they are within 2.4 kilometres of their school and buses are no longer available in the cash-strapped Vernon School District.

Now I can relate to the time crunch this will create. Imagine having to leave the house early and not having sufficient time to beautify yourself or  enjoy a few extra minutes of sleep?

But for others, walk-related anxiety may stem from having to exercise without clicking a remote in front of a TV screen, or being out of reach of Twitter for more than 15 seconds.

According to the Childhood Obesity Foundation, only 15 per cent of Canadian children in 1978 were overweight or obese.  By 2007, 29 per cent of adolescents had unhealthy weights.

“Most adolescents do not outgrow this problem and in fact, many continue to gain excess weight,” states the foundation’s website.

The B.C. Medical Association indicates that 42 to 63 per cent of obese school-age children become obese adults.

“Kids need at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and should aim for 90 minutes of daily physical activity for optimal growth and development,” says the BCMA.

So instead of being a negative, the Vernon School District’s decision to enforce walk limits could be a small part of the puzzle towards improved health and shrinking those waste lines.

Consider that a child living at the outer limit of the 2.4 kilometres could spend 30 to 40 minutes hoofing it each way daily. That will go a long ways towards the ultimate goal of 90 minutes.

On top of this, a walk will allow our youth to breathe in some fresh air and perhaps interact with those around them instead of constantly texting.

However, I suspect there will be some parents who simply replace the bus with the family car and drive their child to school.

Obviously, we all want to protect our children and make life easier for them as days are busy with school and extra activities. But consider that many us had to walk when we were in school. It wasn’t the proverbial  “six miles uphill in the snow with no shoes on,” but such an excursion provided us with exercise, camaraderie among friends and a sense of independence.

Like many parents, I have struggled with encouraging kids to be active in this social media/technological era. So when I learned my teenaged daughter would lose her bus ride, I saw a silver lining in the district’s dark budget cloud.

My only hesitation about the walk to school would be if I still had primary children.

There is the threat of passing vehicles and we all know that small children dart around and their actions can be unpredictable. Many areas are without sidewalks or proper shoulders, so it’s less than ideal to allow a five or six-year-old to walk or ride their bike 2.4 kilometres alone to school.

However, that doesn’t mean the only solution is for little Johnny or Sally to be put on the bus. If parents aren’t available, perhaps there is an older sibling that can chaperone them during the walk or they can buddy up with a neighbour kid.

Some of my fondest memories as a kid were walking to school with an older gentleman who took the same route to work, or joking around and sharing stories with friends as we headed to class. Not only did I get good at juggling a gym bag and an instrument case on a bike, but wheels allowed me to discover the broader community.

As hand-held gadgets make society more sedentary and more insular, walking to school could be a step in the right direction.