A bike-safe Hawaii will keep kids' bodies and brains fit


POSTED: Wednesday, January 07, 2009

For bicyclists and walkers who choose to remain active by using their own energy for transportation, the relationship between activity level and obesity reported in the article “;Obesity: Healthful Commuting Trims Fat”; (Star-Bulletin, Dec. 18) comes as no surprise. There have been many studies that show the benefits of being active - from health benefits (lower rates of diabetes and other health problems, better overall fitness levels) to environmental benefits (less air and noise pollution) to economic benefits (reduced transportation and health care costs).

While Hawaii's overall obesity rate is lower than the national average, the Department of Health recently released information on obesity rates for our youth that indicate otherwise for this group. According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey dated September 2008, 15.6 percent of Hawaii's public high school students are obese and 14.3 percent are overweight. That's nearly one in three.

One of the reasons cited for the high rate is lack of physical education. Only 38.5 percent of public high school students surveyed went to PE classes one or more days a week when in school. While Gov. Linda Lingle tried to increase requirements for physical education this past legislative session, our state schools superintendent was against it because it would cut into other requirements under the No Child Left Behind law.

  Let's take a moment then to look at what would happen if students participated in more physical activity. Studies completed by researchers at the Medical College of Georgia, among others, indicate that regular exercise improves children's thinking. According to ScienceDaily, a recent study also indicates that exercise seems to reduce anger expression in overweight children. These results alone should be enough to motivate the Department of Education, Board of Education and others to support physical activity by students.

And what about the impact on test scores and required results under the No Child Left Behind law? According to the California School Boards Association Policy Briefs published in October 2006, “;Even though P.E. may cut into academic class time, schools offering intense physical activity programs have seen positive effects on test scores in mathematics, reading and writing.”;

We are fortunate to have a successful BikeEd program run by the Hawaii Bicycling League that teaches fourth-graders how to safely ride their bikes. This is a good foundation. In addition, the Hawaii Department of Health has been encouraging Bike and Walk School Buses under the federal Safe Routes to School program through various workshops. We need to do more, however.

  Some examples of projects that would improve Hawaii's bicycling environment include:

» bike share programs, which are similar to luggage cart rentals in airports;

» conversion of buses to include bike racks inside the bus, as has been successfully done in Colorado;

» revision of road construction guidelines to consider safety of bicyclists;

» timely reimbursements of government grants so that the private sector can provide services to assist with the development of bicycle and pedestrian programs.

  During our upcoming legislative session, consideration should be given to require more physical education in schools. It's also time for our state and county leaders to make significant improvements to our bicycle and pedestrian facilities and help create a safe and friendly environment for nonmotorized methods of transportation. Public education promoting safe driving habits would also go a long way in making parents and others feel more comfortable about allowing children to walk or take a bike instead of a car and to start thinking about these other options for getting from point A to point B for themselves.


Natalie Iwasa was named “;Advocacy Volunteer of the Year”; for 2007 by Hawaii Bicycling League. She lives in Honolulu.