Getting kids to bike again

Here and Now

This story was originally covered by PRI’s Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

Childhood obesity is on the rise, and study after study shows that a sedentary lifestyle can be deadly. One effective and fun way to help children is to convince them to ride bikes. Nearly half of all children once biked or walked to school, now that number has dropped to 13 percent.

“We’re realistic that it’s a little bit of a battle to change people’s perceptions” and convince parents to let children ride bikes, Peter Flax, editor in chief of Bicycling Magazine, told Here and Now. “People are a little nervous about letting kids out of their sight,” Flax said, because of the “stranger danger” phenomenon. But “the more real danger,” according to Flax “is from people in SUVs who are texting.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2008, 52,000 people were injured and 716 died while riding a bike, and 15 percent of the fatalities were children between 5 and 15 years-old.

The most important way to keep children safe on bikes is to make sure they’re wearing helmeta. Flax cites studies suggesting that the chance of head injury goes down by 85 percent when kids wear helmets. He suggests that parents “take your kid to the store and let them pick the helmet.” That way, kids will hopefully be proud of the helmet, think it’s cool and want to wear it around their friends and while biking.

Parents can also organize bike pools with other families in their neighborhoods to help kids get to school. Flax says this can be a win-win situation for parents and kids: “The kids get to experience that active start to the day, Mom and dad get to burn some calories that maybe is tough for them to fit into their schedule.”

Biking also doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation. Flax’s son goes to school 3 miles away from his home. So he drives him for about two miles, gets the bike out of the car and lets his son bike the rest of the way.

There are also public policy solutions that can get kids to bike more, and make biking safer. Flax says that “a lot of communities have found that if they invest a little bit of energy and a little bit of money” to create things like bike lanes, biking can be safer and more fun.

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