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FOR RELEASE: October 1, 2003  
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Walking Activities Encouraged in Upcoming Child Health Events

Walking is fun and important to children’s lives - and millions of people across the world plan to send that message to their communities and beyond when they participate in Walk to School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 8. The Injury Prevention Service and School Health Program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) hope that the event will serve to increase safer walking routes to schools and promote yearlong walking programs. The event’s goal is to engage children and adults in physical activities and highlight the need for communities to make their streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Another purpose of 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,” said Beth Ramos, OSDH director of Child and Adolescent Health, and co-chair of Action for Healthy Oklahoma Kids (AHOK). AHOK is a state subsidiary of the national Action for Healthy Kids initiative that focuses on decreasing childhood overweight and obesity. (For more information, view the national Web site www.actionforhealthykids.org, click on “state teams” and enter Oklahoma.)

“October is also Child Health Month and walking your child to school is a terrific way to both increase physical activity and discuss safety in your own neighborhood,” said Shelli Stephens Stidham, OSDH director of Injury Prevention Service. “These events heighten awareness among families, educators and community leaders across the country about the importance of pedestrian safety and promote a more pedestrian-friendly environment in communities nationwide.”

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,” stated Commissioner of Health Dr. Leslie Beitsch. “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 Walk to School Day Web site ( www.walktoschool.org ) includes resources such as health information, specifics on walking events and a downloadable checklist to help determine how friendly a community is for walking and bicycling. Beginning at the first hour of the Walk to School Day event, Internet users may view the progress of the events as they happen by clicking on www.iwalktoschool.org . Walkers may post quotes and send electronic photos of their communities’ events as they are completed.

Organizers said another popular idea is the “Walking School Bus”. A designated adult volunteer “picks up” each student, house by house, on foot. The adult acts as a “bus driver.” This allows children to enjoy the benefits of walking while parents' time commitments and concerns for their children's safety are minimized. The “Walking School Bus” travels to school along a set route. Many “Walking School Bus” drivers pull a wagon to ease the burden of students’ heavy backpacks and books.

An additional way for children to walk to school safely is by organizing Block Watchers. Block Watchers on the designated routes are asked to stand at their front door or gate as the children walk and/or bicycle to and from school each day. A schedule is set up to ensure there is always a Block Watcher watching. As the students pass through the neighborhood, there will be a number of adults watching and ensuring that the children are safe as they proceed to school or home. Block Watcher Houses are clearly identified, and children are taught to approach these homes if any problems arise.

“Increasing the number of children safely walking and biking between home and school helps these young people to become more active and builds exercise into their lifestyle,” said Ramos. “Moderate physical activity such as walking and biking positively affects academic performance and skill development. Studies show that children who are physically active have increased concentration, improved mathematics, reading, and writing scores, and reduced disruptive behavior.”

For additional resources on Child Health Month, please visit www.childrenshealth.gov . To find out more about the Oct. 8 walking activities, contact the OSDH Child and Adolescent Health Division at (405) 271-4471. These events are being held in partnership with the Walk This Weigh Oklahoma initiative.

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