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Are Long Commutes to School Healthy for Kids?

It’s time that long commutes to school are viewed as more than just inconveniences. Long commutes have been found to have a negative impact on children’s well-being. 

Research by Carole Turley Voulgaris of California Polytechnic State University, Michael J. Smart of Rutgers University, and Brian D. Taylor of UCLA, takes a detailed look at how lengthy commutes affect the time kids devote to other daily activities. Their findings detail just how damaging a long commute can be. 

Every additional minute of commuting, beyond the average, is associated with a 1.3-minute reduction in sleep. Meaning if one teenager has a commute of 10 minutes and another has a commute of 30 minutes, the second student would get 26 minutes less of sleep on average.

Sleep is incredibly important to child development. Proper sleep in children is linked to improved attention, behavior, better memory, heightened focus as well as overall mental and physical health. Sleep is even linked to a healthy immune system that can properly stave off illnesses. When we sleep, our immune system produces a protein called cytokines that help fight infection. Depriving a child of sleep means that less cytokines are produced and the chances of catching a virus such as the common cold go up. 

A long commute doesn’t just mean less sleep for children. It also means less exercise. 

Students with commutes that were 30 minutes or less got as much as an hour and 15 minutes more exercise than those with longer commutes. According to a recent World Health Organization study, children ages 11-17 around the world aren’t getting enough exercise. The study found that 80 percent of adolescents ages 11 to 17 were insufficiently physically active in 2016. A long commute to school might be a contributing factor in a global health crisis in today’s youth. 

How can we expect students to show up to school ready to learn when a system is in place that disadvantages them from the get-go? Why do we accept the status-quo bus system when it can harm the very students that it is supposed to serve?

There is a better way.

Zum has reduced student commute times in some school districts, such as Oakland Unified School District, from 70% of students spending over an hour commuting to school to only 3%. At first glance, this can be viewed as a convenience for students, but that scratches the surface of it’s true benefit. Less commute time means more sleep and more exercise for children. That means increased child well-being. 

Long commutes need to be viewed as what they truly are. A cause for poor health in students that needs a solution.

To learn more about Zum’s approach to student transportation safety, read our full vision here.

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