Professor Shares Local ‘Walk to School Day’ Success with International Congress on Obesity

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,

Sept. 29, 2006 – Dr. Mark Langenfeld is preparing to kick off the second year of a Cape Girardeau elementary school’s participation in the International Walk to School Day, a program that was so successful during its first year in the city that it prompted sidewalk additions around Alma Schrader Elementary School and led to Langenfeld recently presenting the success of the local event at the International Congress on Obesity in Sydney, Australia.

“Promoting walking to school is one worthy strategy to help increase the levels of physical activity among our children,” said Langenfeld, a professor in Southeast’s Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation. “It was really satisfying to be among people from 70 countries at the conference and to highlight our Cape schools and Cape Girardeau in an international forum. I was surprised at the level of amazement others at the conference expressed about the success of our event. Many were really surprised that less than a year later something was accomplished to improve the area,” he said.

The sidewalks have been a definite improvement, according to school principal Ruth Ann Orr.

“The sidewalks have made things much safer and easier, especially after school,” she said. “We have had more kids able to walk to school, which is what Mark was after, but I also appreciate the sidewalks from a safety aspect. We were able to establish sidewalks on the front perimeter of the school and on the Masters side of Alma Schrader, as well as on the block immediately surrounding the school.”

The sidewalks, which also have handicap cutouts, have been extended to the neighborhoods around the school, Orr added.

School children and their parents aren’t the only people benefiting from the new sidewalks, according to Langenfeld and Orr.

“I have noticed more elderly people walking and taking advantage of the sidewalks, some that I never saw before the sidewalks were available,” Orr said.

“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 20 years,” Langenfeld added. “The neighbors are clearly making good use of the sidewalks. It’s really an asset to the entire community.”

International Walk to School Day is an international movement to encourage kids to walk to school, according to Langenfeld. It promotes health though physical activity, as well as safety and concern for the environment. Over 3,000 schools from all 50 states are expected to join walkers in 36 countries from around the world in this year’s event on Oct. 4. Alma Schrader became the first school in Cape Girardeau to join the international event last year, when Langenfeld approached school officials with the idea.

 “I like the idea that on one day, all around the world, students share this similar frame of mind with their peers,” he said. “I’m always trying to promote physically active lifestyles, and this event is a great way to emphasize the healthy aspects of walking to school and highlight ways to help make walking more attractive as a way to get to school. We truly have something to celebrate this year with the new sidewalks in the Alma Schrader neighborhood as the culmination of the city’s response to the need for safe routes to school in the neighborhood.”

Langenfeld says it is in the public’s interest that kids experience even modest amounts of physical activity.

“The United States has led the way with the recent trend of overweight and obesity,” he said. “Levels of physical activity across the country have dropped. Encouraging children to be active by walking to school is a worthy goal. In 1960, 60 percent of children walked or rode bikes to school. Currently, that number is under 25 percent. Across the country, 75 percent of trips under one mile are made by automobile. We’ve become so accustomed to automobiles that we drive even short distances,” Langenfeld stressed.

For more information on International Walk to School Day, contact Langenfeld at (573) 651-2461 or mlangenfeld@semo.edu