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Let's walk to school

Only one generation ago, almost half of all children in the U.S. walked to school. Today, a look at the car-jammed streets outside of schools in the morning and afternoon tells a different story.

Only one generation ago, almost half of all children in the U.S. walked to school. Today, a look at the car-jammed streets outside of schools in the morning and afternoon tells a different story.

Only one in 10 children now walks to school regularly, with the number of walking and bicycling trips to school made by children down by 65 percent during the last 40 years, according to the U.S Department of Transportation.

On February 9, Active Living Douglas County, together with West Central Wellness (a five-county statewide health improvement program) brought local partners from the region to a Safe Routes to School workshop.

The workshop was led by the Minnesota Department of Health, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, and the State Safe Routes to School Network.

The purpose of a Safe Routes to School program is to promote active and healthy lifestyle choices for youth by providing a safe environment for school-age children to walk and/or ride a bike to school.

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Local school districts, law enforcement members, city and county engineering firms, public health staff and parents from the West Central region met to discuss development of Safe Routes to School planning and identify action steps.

Safe Routes to School Programs focus on getting kids safely to school by getting neighborhood groups, traffic engineers and local officials to work together to develop safe school routes. It also encourages parents and children to take advantage of the many benefits of getting around on foot or by bike.

The recent workshop also included discussions on how to make walking and biking safer for students at the new Woodland Elementary School, which currently does not have a safe infrastructure in place for walking and biking.

"There is a need," said Jim Gripne of the Alexandria Police Department. "There are many parents driving kids to school because they don't have other options or feel comfortable having their kids walk."

Physical health is another reason why Safe Routes to School encourages alternatives to driving. According to the Center for Disease Control's chronic disease prevention and health promotion website, since the mid 1960s rates of childhood obesity have increased from 4 to 16 percent nationally. 

If you would like more information, or to get involved, contact Jessica Peterson at Douglas County Public Health, (320) 763-6018.

ABOUT THE SPONSORS

Active Living Douglas County is a coalition working toward a safe and healthy community by creating environmental changes to support walking and bicycling. For more information visit www.activelivingdc.com .

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West Central Wellness is funded by the Statewide Health Improvement Program and works in Douglas, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Grant Counties to create communities that support healthy choices. For more information visit www.westcentralwellness.org .

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