How kids can help to save gas

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

July 2008

Unless you're driving a hybrid you're getting zero miles per gallon at idle, not much more as you inch along the curb in a long line of other parents waiting to drop off or pick up the kids at school. When even a partial fill-up costs more than fifty bucks it's time to start thinking differently.

On those occasions when I'm given the pleasant task of picking up the grandtwins I usually park more than half a block away. They don't complain — much. It's a few more minutes during which we can make small talk and they know that grousing about walking a couple of hundred yards doesn't make Grandpa change his habits. What Gramps hopes to do is to change theirs.

I have learned to avoid running errands in the vicinity of our three neighborhood schools just before classes begin in the morning and when the inmates are set free in the afternoon. The line (mostly SUVs) at one school is so long that it often blocks access to the local cluster of stores clear around the corner.

What if we were to drop off and pick up the children 2 or 3 blocks away? After all, the ones that live that close usually walk. Bad weather is a problem in some areas but most days are great for walking.

The gas crunch has already made some Americans change their habits. There are waiting lists for hybrid cars; bicycle and scooter stores are seeing a spike in sales. This is a perfect time to change the drive-'em-to-school paradigm.

Observations on modern hunter-gatherers, today's equivalent of Stone Age people, show that they walk about 9 miles a day. Among that group there is no obesity, no type 2 diabetes and no coronary artery disease. Could the gas crisis be a blessing in disguise? Consider the advantages of having our children walk an extra 2 or 3 blocks twice a day.

First, they would arrive brighter and less likely to give the teacher a hard time. There's plenty of evidence to show that children who are more physically active during the school day perform better in class and they are less likely to cause discipline problems.

A couple of long walks 5 days a week would get them used to it and it might dampen the current trend toward childhood obesity, now 4 times what it was in the early 1970s. For many children that's the most activity that they would have all day. Cutbacks in P.E., elimination of "image-lowering" games like dodge ball, removal of play equipment for fear of injury and litigation have conspired to make our children less fit and more fat.

And how about the savings on gasoline? The time saved? The tempers spared?

Worried about safety? Park half a mile away and join your child in the stroll to school. You'll walk two miles a day. And it could become a habit!

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.