HOW DID YOU GET TO SCHOOL? Another likely factor in the modern epidemic of childhood obesity and related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, from the University of Texas:

In 1969, about half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Fast forward 35 years and less than 15 percent of students walk or bicycle to school.

Obviously this decline in daily exercise has some effect on the health of children. The steepness of this decline is especially noteworthy -- even within the same communities, where the distance from home to school may not have changed over this period, people are making different, less healthy choices.
Dr. Tracy McMillan, a professor at UT, has been conducting surveys to figure this out. Apparently many parents view the time they spend driving their kids to school as quality time they wouldn't otherwise have with them. Also, they are concerned about the safety of walking in traffic-heavy areas, where automobiles are increasingly large and fast-moving. The first problem is probably the result of larger trends that cannot easily be remedied, but the latter can be improved through sensible town-planning that makes streets more walkable or bike accessible. Also helpful would be a national effort to educate parents about the health benefits of walking and the relative danger of riding in an automobile.

--Ben Adler