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Take steps to keep kids fit

MY VIEW • National program takes aim at childhood obesity

When I grew up in the 1950s and '60s, I lived a quarter-mile from my elementary and junior high schools, and 1 1/4 miles from my high school. I routinely walked (or biked) to school every day, carrying all of my binders and books under my arms.

Walking and bicycling to school traditionally has been one of the most important and consistent ways that children have been physically active. In 1969, approximately 50 percent of children walked or bicycled to school. Of those kids living within a mile of school, 87 percent either walked or rode a bike.

Today, fewer than 15 percent of schoolchildren walk or bicycle to school. As a result, kids today are less active, less independent - and less healthy.

As a physician, I am increasingly alarmed at how physically inactive many of our children have become. Obesity-related health issues are on the rise. Nationwide, 33 percent of all children are now overweight or obese.

When not in school or doing part-time work to earn extra cash, young people now spend more time with computers, video games, TV and movies, and less time with their families or in physical activities.

Kaiser Permanente understands the connection between physical inactivity and the high rate of childhood obesity. We believe it is important to encourage children and young people to be up on their feet moving around.

That is why Kaiser Permanente is an enthusiastic supporter and sponsor of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. We want to restore walking and bicycling as the primary modes for children getting to and from school.

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, schools throughout the world will be increasing safe physical activity for students and families through participation in International Walk to School Day (www.walktoschool.org). Kaiser Permanente is encouraging cities, schools and families to participate in this healthy and fun event.

Every community could benefit from making every day Walk to School Day, and this is done through creating safe routes to school. Safe Routes to School is a national and international movement and a federally funded program that creates safe, convenient and fun opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from schools.

We should do all we can to provide our children with the opportunity to walk and bicycle to school safely and to get the physical activity they need as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Visit http://info.kp.org/communitybenefit/ to learn more about Kaiser Permanente's work in the community.

Philip Wu is a physician for the Department of Pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente Northwest. He lives in Tualatin.