Finding fun and creative ways to boost physical activity among elementary school students has become all too important due to a rise in childhood obesity statistics. Developed by the National Center for Safe Routes to School (NCSRTS), Walking School Bus programs are gaining popularity among students and parents by increasing school attendance and providing a healthy exercise routine before and after the school day.

“More than providing safety, a Walking School Bus is fun for kids as they explore their world and interact with friends on the way to school,” associate director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School, Nancy Pullen-Seufert, said in a statement.  “Kids love it! And adults love it too, they get a lot out of it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of American children between the ages of 6 and 11 years old struggling with obesity has risen from seven percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2012. As of 2012, over one-third of children and adolescents in the United States were considered overweight or obese. School programs have been tapped to play a significant role in promoting a healthier lifestyle via a nutritious diet and increased physical activity.

Partnering with PedNet Coalition, a nationwide group that develops community programs and campaigns to encourage walking, biking and transit use, the NCSRTS helped launch Walking School Bus programs to alleviate safety concerns among families living within walking or biking distance of school. Children participating in the program join fellow classmates and one or more adults on an organized walking route with a timetable and meeting points. The NCSRTS and PedNet recently launched online audio/video training programs to provide strategies and tips for communities looking to implement a Walking School Bus program.

“Participants will learn how to prepare, build momentum and launch a Walking School Bus program, including identifying community partners, and securing program funding,” Pullen-Seufert added. “And we think the audio/visual format will make it easy for people across the country to access the training and learn from PedNet’s experience.”

Not only do Walking School Bus programs provide a platform that encourages a consistent exercise routine among elementary school students, but it has also helped drive school attendance in communities that have adopted it. Fourteen students who participated in the program completed a survey last year regarding the efficacy of Walking School Buses. Eleven of the students said they attended school more often after entering the program, the Associated Press reported.