With childhood obesity rates that have more than tripled in the past 30 years, our nation’s children need more opportunities to be physically active to reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke. Sixty-five percent of adolescents (and 50 percent of adults) do not get the recommended amount of physical activity each day. Physical inactivity and childhood obesity pose a serious threat to our children’s health, increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease as adults.

American Heart Association data indicate that only 13 percent of children walk or bike to school today, down from nearly 50 percent in 1969 — but studies have shown that schools receiving infrastructure improvements through the Safe Routes to School program increased walking and bicycling by 20 percent to 200 percent.

Walking one mile to and from school each day equals two-thirds of the recommended level of physical activity per day, and children who walk to school are more physically active throughout the day.

In Louisiana alone, tens of thousands of people living within a half-mile of a school could benefit from Safe Routes to School projects that improve the environment for walking and bicycling. We are one of these families because of a pedestrian-unfriendly path from Jefferson Highway to our children’s school a quarter-mile away on College Drive. Funds offered through the Safe Routes to School program could help many families recapture the joy many of us vividly recall walking to and from school.

As a volunteer with the American Heart Association’s You’re the Cure network, we urge U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, to support the Safe Routes to Schools program in the transportation bill. We believe that establishing fun and safe walking and biking routes in our communities is essential since some schools don’t provide daily physical education.

Louisiana has just been designated as the nation’s third most obese state with a 30 percent prevalence of adult obesity. This program can create opportunities to provide solutions toward preventing childhood obesity. Our elected officials have the power to make it easier for children to lead healthy lives which will lead to a healthier Louisiana.

Albert D. Sam II, MD

  • ational spokesman, American Heart Association

Baton Rouge