Public Health Advocates In Indianapolis Want More Children to Walk to School

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By Jake Harper, Side Effects Public Media Reporter

September 9, 2016


INDIANAPOLIS – A few decades ago, almost half of all school kids walked or biked to school. Now, it’s down to one in 8, according to a 2009 study. Meanwhile, obesity has climbed, along with the health problems that go along with it.

Walking and biking to school each day could help parents and kids get more exercise. But in some places, it’s not easy.

On a hot day, a group of kids and school administrators are exploring the neighborhood around their school, SENSE charter school, in southeast Indianapolis. They’re looking for missing sidewalks and bike lanes, potholes, overgrown bushes–things that make it hard for kids to walk to school.

What they’re’ doing is called a walk audit. The theory is, you identify and fix some of these obstacles, and kids might be more likely to walk or bike to school.

Allan Henderson leads the walk as part his work with Indiana’s Safe Routes To School programs, which use federal funds to improve infrastructure.  He says one reason fewer kids walk to school these days  is distance.  Over the years, schools have been built further from communities, which meant more kids taking the bus.

But he says, even for kids who live close to school, there’s still concern about traffic.

 But getting kids to walk is not just about and adding crosswalks and speed limit signs…

SENSE charter school did a tally and found that the vast majority of its students arrive by car or bus. Just one in ten walks.

Kate Voss has lived in the neighborhood for 16 years, and she helped get a Safe Routes to School Grant for SENSE charter school. She says a huge barrier to walking around here is a fear of crime. While they walk around, students notice abandoned houses, and litter—things that reinforce the idea that this can be a rough place.  

The worries over traffic and crime — those issues feed on themselves. The more cars dropping kids off, the more dangerous traffic appears. Fewer kids walking makes it seem more likely that something bad could happen to a child on the way to school.  

Public health advocates like Allan Henderson want to reverse that cycle.

Stephanie Thornberry is with the Marion County Public Health Department.  She was part of the walk audit group and she thinks walking to school could help with obesity later on.  

Kate Voss plans to hold walking and biking safety classes at the school, with raffles to bring people in. And a few kids are going to get some free bikes.

She thinks walking and biking would be good for the students.  But she also hopes it will have a ripple effect.


Photo:  Courtesy of

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