A study out earlier this month found more than 65% of Iowans are obese or overweight and the numbers, over the decades, are getting steadily worse. Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, says one possible solution is to get more kids moving and it can be as simple as changing how they get to school.
“In 1969, about 42% of kids walked and biked to school,” Wyatt says. “It’s dropped down to about 15% of kids that walk and bike to school. Our communities are really set up in good situations. We just need to do some minor improvements, maybe change some attitudes and participation and get kids walking and bicycling to school again.”
The Iowa City-based Iowa Bicycle Coalition is asking for a half-dozen Iowa communities to volunteer to host a free workshop for the Safe Routes to Schools program. Wyatt says it’s a global movement focused on a goal to increase walking and biking for physical and environmental health benefits, as well as to improve unsafe conditions along routes to school. He’s hoping at least six communities in Iowa will volunteer to get the wheels rolling.
“This is the interesting part about the Safe Routes to School program,” Wyatt says. “It takes some involvement from city government. It takes some involvement from the school districts and also some champions within the community who really want to see active change.” He says the free workshops will be highly beneficial for communities who want to improve safety on routes to school and to increase the numbers of walkers and bikers. Wyatt says the program is built on five E’s, including evaluation and enforcement.
“It looks at engineering, how the built environment looks,” Wyatt says. “It looks at education, can we teach more safety for bicyclists and pedestrians in or outside of the school day. It looks at encouragement, are there things we can incentivize students or make contests for them to increase their walking and bicycling habits.” The deadline for communities to apply to become model communities is August 6th. For details, visit: “www.iowasaferoutes.org“.