The effect that environment has on human health has been known since the nineteenth century. In the United States development of sanitation and provision of clean running water eliminated the spread of infectious diseases. Zoning laws were adopted and housing density decreased in order to prevent overcrowding and spread of disease. Residential areas were moved from the poisonous fumes of industrial and commercial enterprises.
Concern of today’s society is prevention of chronic disease. So the question arises if the automobile dependent urban environmental set up that we enjoy today, could have contributed to rising rates of inactivity and sedentariness, major risk factors of chronic disease, especially in children. A recent study published in the October issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise investigated how a change in the mode of travel of children from and to school influenced their activity levels. They measured children’s moderate to vigorous activity levels using accelerometers and found that those children that walked to primary school had on average 10 minutes more moderate to vigorous activity than those that came to and from school by car. The moderate to vigorous activity levels in secondary school children who walked to school were on average 18 minutes higher than those of children that were using the car as their mode of transportation. Children that took the bus recorded less activity than those traveling on foot but more activity than those traveling in a car.
Thus, public health agenda should encourage active travel to school. If a walk to school is unsuitable for one reason or another, public transportation seems to be a better solution than the car not only for children’s health but for the environment as well. Authors of the study suggest that change in the mode of travel to and from school could substantially increase the numbers of children who meet activity level guidelines. According to their data 64% of children who walk to school would meet activity level guidelines compared only to 27% of the children traveling by car. These simple modifications in the mode of transportation of children to and from school have a potential to influence behavior early on in the childhood allowing formation of habitual physical activity, which could contribute to better health in the adulthood.
Written by Nina Zisko, phD student at CERG.