health

How kids around the world get to school

By Jacqueline Howard

Published August 10, 2018

Back to school season in the United States brings droves of big yellow school buses and crammed carpool lanes, but in other parts of the world, how children commute to class can vary widely.

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Whether children hop on a school bus, row a boat (like this pair in the Philippines) or climb a cliff to get to school, how they commute can have major impacts on their health.

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"Active commuting" -- any transportation that involves physical activity, such as cycling, skateboarding or simply walking -- "is a way of easily incorporating physical activity during the day," said Alejandra Jáuregui de la Mota, a researcher at the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico.

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25 million

children in the United States ride school buses, more than half of the nation's kids

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In the US, there have been efforts to ease parents' concerns about traffic, crime or weather and promote active commuting. In New Jersey, "walking school buses" involve children walking to and from school together, chaperoned by an adult.

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In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, some children such as 8-year-old Leobardo Medina take a gondola to school.

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68.8%

of 10- to 14-year-olds walk to school in Mexico. "Mexico is a very diverse country," Jáuregui de la Mota said. "Children may walk by themselves for hours to get to school, for example, more than three or four hours. They may get to school riding a horse or a donkey or even on a boat."

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In the mountains of southwest China's Sichuan province, a steel ladder was constructed against a 800-meter bluff that children climbed to reach their boarding school in the isolated clifftop village of Atule'er.

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46%

of 5- to 10-year-olds in Great Britain walk to school; that number drops to 38% for 11- to 15-year-olds

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Researchers worry that a reduction in active commuting could contribute to the ongoing rise in childhood obesity, which the World Health Organization calls "one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century."

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Active commuting "fosters independence, which is important, and develops a habit for active travel," said Ashley Cooper, a professor of physical activity and public health at the University of Bristol in England. "I still commute or do other journeys by bike some 40 years later."

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