SIOUX CITY | The Sioux City school district is encouraging students and parents to leave the car in the garage and start walking to class – a move meant to promote the city's status as a Blue Zones demonstration site.
Weeklong walking programs at Irving and Liberty elementary schools are being crafted to help parents and students find safe routes while also promoting an active lifestyle.
Head physical education teacher Kelly Tuttle said fewer children are walking to school compared with previous generations. Video games, busy work schedules and better access to transportation have all fueled the trend.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42 percent of students walked or biked to school at any distance in 1969. Only 16 percent walked or biked in 2001. The same report showed 87 percent of students walked or biked to school if they lived within a mile of the building in 1969, compared with 63 percent in 2001.
"The more mobile your body is, the healthier you're going to be," Tuttle said. "We are aiming this at younger students because it's got to become a habit and life skill."
The program aims to help parents feel comfortable by promoting safe walking routes and by helping students create a social network with peers who also walk.
The walks are open to all students at either school. Irving has about 653 students and Liberty has 766.
The district is getting two $2,425 grants from the state Department of Public Health to create the programs. In all, $19,400 will go for eight programs scattered across Mills, Johnson, Linn and Woodbury counties.
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The money will be used for equipment, such as handheld stop signs, and for background checks of residents who volunteer to monitor the route.
Angela Drent, health planner at the Siouxland District Health Department, said the program ties into the city's Blue Zones designation.
Communities selected as Blue Zones demonstration sites get help developing and implementing a blueprint for making permanent social, environmental and policy changes that improve community health.
The goal is to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.
Healthier students will put Sioux City on that path, Drent said.
"It's really increasing health and social activity," she said. "We really need – as a community – to take a look at our obesity rates."
Each school's walking program will last for one week, but Tuttle said she hopes families will continue it on their own. The district is also looking to implement incentives that get students walking, but details are not available yet.
Irving students will walk May 6-10, and Liberty students will take to the sidewalks May 13-17.
"I think when students see it's safe to walk to school and meet other kids, it helps the parents, and they may continue it on their own," she said.