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School Choice Policy Could Mean More Physical Activity for Students

by Anne Bell | May 31, 2012
Reducing Commute Distance Facilitates Actively Commuting to School

SCHOOL CHOICE POLICY COULD MEAN MORE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY FOR STUDENTS

Reducing Commute Distance Facilitates Actively Commuting to School

SAN FRANCISCO – The days of grade school students walking to school – remembered as uphill both ways – represent a bygone era; the number of students walking to school simply isn’t what is used to be. Safety concerns and the built environment between home and school have negatively affected active commuting. In addition, school choice typically results in farther commutes.

A study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 59th Annual Meeting suggests restricting school choice in existing urban areas may reduce the distance barrier to actively commuting to school.  

“Redistricting to keep students attending neighborhood schools could be helpful if a community is trying to encourage active lifestyles amongst its youth,” said John Sirard, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study conducted in Minneapolis. “Students are more likely to walk or bike if the opportunity allows, especially in urban areas.” 

Supported by a grant from Active Living Research, the study assessed the outcome of a new, more-restrictive school-choice policy in Minneapolis. The policy separated the city into three geographical transportation zones. Researchers gathered baseline data on the approximately 20,500 enrolled students across 39 schools in the spring of 2010 with follow-up data collected in the fall of 2010 after the policy went into effect. The measures were 1) the travel distance to school for students in Minneapolis K-5 and K-8 schools, and 2) prevalence of students actively commuting. Trained research staff observed two morning and two afternoon commutes at each point and a transportation coordinator completed a survey to control for any new active commuting or infrastructure projects.

The study’s findings suggest that limiting school choice options, which frequently decreases travel distance, may increase the number of students actively commuting. 

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 45,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

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The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.  

The American College of Sports Medicine 59th Annual Meeting is going on now at the Moscone Center West. 

 

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