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It’s off to school we go – on two feet or two wheels

offtoschoolFor too many kids, going off to school means hopping on a bus or scrambling into the back of a car. The Canadian School Travel Planning project is actively working to change this and help more families get to school using active transportation.

The project, supported by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC), as part of its Coalitions Linking Action and Science for Prevention (CLASP) initiative, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, focuses on increasing the number of children who are physically active and on promoting healthy lifestyles. It is doing this by changing the way elementary school children travel to school.

“Active transportation is any kind of human-powered transportation such as walking, bicycling and in-line skating, even snowshoeing and cross-country skiing,” explains Cheyenne Dickinson, the Ecology Action Centre’s Community Advisor for Active & Safe Routes to School, and the project lead in Nova Scotia.

Spearheaded by Green Communities Canada, the project was pilot tested in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. As a result, the model framework was refined and a comprehensive tool kit was made available online. The pilot test was so successful the program has rolled out across the country and will reach students at 120 schools in the next two years. For full details, visit

Through the project, participating organizations are developing policies and practices are that go beyond using school buses as transportation by engaging the community: public health professionals, police, municipal planners, traffic engineers, school boards, parents, and school administrators. Together they develop travel plans that create conditions to make it safe for more families to use active transportation to and from school and encourage them to do so. Measureable results are achieved, that can be tracked over time and compared with other Canadian jurisdictions, thanks to the participation of the University of Toronto in the data collection and analysis phases of the project.

Collaboration is at the heart of the project, says Ms. Dickinson. “We bring community stakeholders together to develop detailed plans for making active travel a safe and realistic choice for children at individual schools. Everybody benefits – the children, the schools, and the communities.”

Those benefits are immediate – kids are more active, engaged and healthier. The benefits are also long term. “There is an important link between being physically active and being healthy,” notes Dr. Catherine O’Brien, an assistant professor of education at Cape Breton University, and a member of the project team. “Inactivity is linked to many health issues such as chronic disease, including some cancers. If you create schools, neighbourhoods and towns that are conducive to active living, you will have healthier communities.”

“Inactivity is a significant issue for our province,” says Judy Purcell, Prevention Coordinator, Cancer Care Nova Scotia. “In fact, a report prepared last year by the Nova Scotia Alliance for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity, with support from CCNS, concluded that Nova Scotia has a physical inactivity epidemic. The numbers of Nova Scotia children and youth meeting recommended levels of physical activity have declined from 2001 to 2005, and fewer than 1% of Grade 11 females and 9% of Grade 11 males were meeting the recommended levels of physical activity in 2005.”

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” says Dr. O’Brien. “And, this project is an important step forward. Literally.”

Note: The views expressed herein represent of views of the “Children’s Mobility, Health and Happiness: A Canadian School Travel Planning Model” project and do not necessarily represent the views of the project funders.