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NIH awards over $2.5M to Baylor College of Medicine for Walking School Bus study

Researchers at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have received a grant from the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov) to continue their research of the Walking School Bus program on a larger scale. The grant awards more than $2.5 million over five years to study whether a Walking School Bus program will increase children's rates of walking to school and physical activity.

"This grant enables us to build off of our previous research, which looked at short-term outcomes of the Walking School Bus program," said Dr. Jason Mendoza, assistant professor of pediatrics ­ nutrition at BCM and principal investigator of the study. "We can now study a larger group of students and schools over an entire school year."

Walking vs. alternate travel

The program, in which trained staff members pick up children from their homes and safely walk them to school, will recruit up to 700 3rd through 5th graders in up to 22 schools in the Houston Independent School District. Researchers will study four to six schools per year. Children will arrive to school in time for the school breakfast program. This grant continues the successful, long-established partnership between researchers in the CNRC and HISD.

The program will target low-income ethnic minority children because they have disproportionately high rates of obesity and are underrepresented in this type of medical research, according to Mendoza.

Half of the schools recruited will get the walking school bus intervention and the other half will be the control group, who will be asked to get to school the way they normally do.

Study measurements

Researchers will measure how the students traveled to school, how well students follow pedestrian safety behaviors that they are taught in the program, and their physical activity by asking students to wear accelerometers on their waist, which objectively measure physical activity. They will also measure their height and weight to calculate body mass index (BMI) scores. Measurements will be taken before the program begins with follow-up measurements toward the end of the school year.

In collaboration with researchers from Texas A&M University, researchers will also examine how a child's neighborhood impacts their walking to school.

Previous research showed that students who walked to school increased their moderate to vigorous physical activity levels overall, which may decrease their risk for gaining extra weight.

Mendoza is also a member of the section of academic general pediatrics and the NCI-designated Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine. Others from BCM who will take part in this study include Dr. Deborah Thompson, Dr. Tzu-An Chen, Dr. Tom Baranowski and Dr. Theresa Nicklas.

Research reported in this release was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01CA163146. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.