Walking to School vs. Driving: Is One Better?

British Study: Same Total Weekly Activity Level for Walkers, Riders

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 17, 2004 -- Want to work a little more physical fitness into your child's day by having them walk to school?

Good for you for trying to get your youngster moving. But walking to and from school might not be the most helpful strategy.

A new British study shows that walking to and from school makes no difference in a child's total weekly activity. The study is reported on the British medical web site, BMJ Online First.

The study was led by endocrinology and metabolism professor Terry Wilkin of Peninsula Medical School and Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, England. Wilkin and his colleagues compared activity levels among 275 5-year-old children as they started their first year at primary school. Some children walked to school and some were driven to school.

The children wore monitors during waking hours for five consecutive school days and a weekend to measure their physical activity.

The kids' height, weight, and body fat were also noted.

"Although children who walk to and from school record more activity in the process, the difference has no impact on total weekly activity," write the researchers. "Those driven by car matched those who walked to school in overall activity levels."

Most children in the study (84%) walked about a half-mile to school, taking an average of six minutes.

The kids did far more during the week than just stroll to and from the schoolhouse. Walking to school accounted for just 2% of their total weekly activity, write the researchers.

The study didn't examine other reasons to walk to school, such as reducing traffic and pollution or building good walking habits in children.

"There may be benefits ... but physical activity does not appear to be one of them," write the authors.

Walking to school may not overhaul students' activity levels, but it certainly won't hurt their fitness, either.