A study of school-age children and their families surveyed on two occasions, years apart, within an eight-year period in four key New Jersey metro areas found that if those kids walked or rode bikes to school starting at an early age, they were seven times more likely to still be doing so once they got older.

The results of the New Jersey Child Health Study, which was co-authored by Rutgers University professor of landscape architecture David Tulloch, were published in the April edition of the journal Preventive Medicine Reports.

In a release, Rutgers described the four cities studied — Camden, New Brunswick, Newark, and Trenton — as "predominantly low-income," but Tulloch said they are not the only locales in the state that have schools close to enough homes to make walkability widely possible.

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"These communities actually share qualities with a number of others in New Jersey," he said. "They have lots of connected streets, with sidewalks."

'Active commuting' — what is it?

Many children are choosing to walk or bike to school in these municipalities, according to Tulloch, even when taking the bus is an option.

It's a concept the study refers to as "active commuting," which has an obvious component of physical health, but is also simply something "wonderful" Tulloch said students can look forward to.

Walking or biking increases socialization between students, he said, as well as from a child to a parent, at least when the child is young enough to require adult accompaniment.

"It can also simply be about enhancing the learning experience of the student, and when it's possible, when it's something that we can do, it's something that can really help that child," Tulloch said. "Knowing that walking at an early age helps shape that behavior later is a really powerful incentive."

Safety in multiple ways

The study found that if parents judged their neighborhoods to be generally free of crime, their children were two-and-a-half times more likely to actively commute.

But that's not the only type of safety Tulloch said towns should be concerning themselves with in trying to boost this trend.

Transforming the walk or ride into something more attractive to students and families, but also doing things like providing better crosswalks, may increase these numbers.

"Making sure that that approach to the school is prioritizing the walking students, as opposed to the cars dropping off other students," Tulloch said.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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