International Walk to School Day to Involve Ohio County Schools
Wheeling, WV- Walking is fun and important to children's lives - and many people across the country and world plan to send that message to their communities when they participate in Walk to School Day on Thursday (Oct. 9). Thanks to a generous grant from the Wheeling Hospital Foundation, an effort is now underway to address the serious problem of youth inactivity. The Ohio County Walk to School Day will kick off this effort to address youth obesity and the need for increased physical activity in the Ohio Valley.
The international event's goal is to engage children and adults in physical activity and in the process highlight the need for communities to make their streets safer for walkers and bicyclists. "The walk is to help reconnect children and adults with the simple joy of taking a walk together, a practice that can produce other valuable benefits," says Dr Bill Reger, Associate Professor, West Virginia University, Department of Community Medicine.
This year, Ohio County's public and catholic schools will be part of the nearly 2,000 schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico who will join walkers in 28 other countries for the event.
"October is Child Health Month and walking your child to school is a terrific way to obtain physical activity and discuss walking safety in your own neighborhood," said Dr. Bill Mercer, Medical Advisor for Ohio County Schools and Director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department. National statistics indicate that the percentage of overweight U.S. children and adults has more than doubled in the last 20 years, putting more Americans at risk for heart disease, diabetes and other serious health problems associated with obesity.
"Most parents think the safest way to get their children to school is to drive them up to the school door," Dr Mercer said. "Unfortunately, the 'drive everywhere' mentality has created more and more congestion at schools and is contributing to the sedentary lifestyles that are starting to have major health consequences for even our youngest children."
The national Web site (www.walktoschool-usa.org) includes resources, statistics, information and a downloadable checklist to help determine how friendly a community is for walking. A "walking school bus is an innovative idea that many communities are choosing to participate in for both physical activity and safety issues. Organizers said the "walking school bus" has become a popular idea: a designated adult supervisor "picks up" each student, house by house, on foot. The group of students walks to school along a set route.
"Both parents and students have an opportunity to spend more time together. A greater awareness is created on how important physical activity and good health are while participating in the "walking school bus" project, " says Lawrence M. Miller, Superintendent, Ohio County Schools. Last year, nearly 3 million children worldwide participated in the day. This is the first year that Ohio County Schools has participated in the international event. In some U.S. communities, information gained from neighborhood "walkability" assessments prompted cities to repair or build sidewalks, add crossing guards, make safety improvements and promote physical activity for the neighborhood children.
"Walk to School Day is a wonderful opportunity to heighten awareness and encourage physical activity for our young people," said Jim Freeland, Child Nutrition Director, Ohio County Schools "The day is a perfect opportunity for families to spend a little extra time with their children and show how walking can be used not only for getting to school but for other transportation as well," said Nick Sparachane, Mayor, City of Wheeling.
"The Ohio County Public and Catholic Schools, in cooperation with the community, recognizes the need to provide opportunities so that walking to school and to other destinations can occur not only one day a year, but each and every day of the year," he added.
In 1997, the Partnership for a Walkable America established the event in the United States. National member agencies involved in this year's event include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the National Safety Council, America Walks, Shape Up America!, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Governor's Highway Safety Association.
*Please note that the National Walk to School Day is October 8. Ohio County will conduct the actual "Walk to School" on Oct 9 and will announce the effort on October 8.