The Sacramento Safe Routes to School Program: Natomas Unified School District

Authors: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UCLA School of Public Health

Location: Sacramento, California, United States

Completion Date: November 2004

HIA Report: Sacramento Safe Routes to School

Summary of the HIA

Proposed Policy or Project

Proposed expansion of the Safe Routes to School Program in Natomas Unified School District (Sacramento, CA) from three elementary schools to two additional elementary schools and one junior high school.

Background and Policy Context

The Sacramento Safe Routes to School Program is a community-led project started in 2002 by parents and community members in the Natomas Unified School District. It’s goals are to:

  • Encourage more students and parents to walk and bicycle safely, to school and elsewhere
  • Eliminate safety hazards and create a more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly environment
  • Promote increased physical activity and improved fitness among students
  • Educate both students and parents, teaching pedestrian, bicycling and driver safety skills
  • Reduce traffic congestion and pollution associated with students being driven to school

Program activities include regular walk/bike to school days, class activities and competitions that encourage students to participate while also teaching them about the benefits of safely walking or biking to school, and working with city staff and planning officials to identify and correct safety hazards or barriers to walkability.

Scope and Methods

Based on a review of the relevant research literature, a “logic framework” was constructed to illustrate the four causal pathways through which the program would have likely impacts on health outcomes. The two major pathways in the logic framework through which the program can affect health are: (1) physical activity (2) pedestrian safety The two minor pathways are: (3) violence/crime (4) exposure to air pollution Each of these impacts and pathways were analyzed based on existing research. Because of the lack of data, most of the analysis was descriptive and qualitative. A simple predictive model to estimate changes in physical activity levels and body mass index was used to make quantitative estimates of effect.

Summary of Findings

Health effects related to increased physical activity: There is an average increase of about 40 minutes per day of physical activity for participants in the Sacramento Safe Routes to School program. This would increase the percentage of students who are active for at least thirty minutes every day from 12.8% to 21.4%. Maintained for a year, this additional physical activity would result in a decrease of 0.09 in the BMI of overweight students. Health effects related to pedestrian safety: Despite the safety concerns about children pedestrians, walk-to-school programs do not lead to greater risk of child injury, in many cases such programs decrease the incidence of pedestrian-car crashes. Health effects related to air pollution: Children who walk-to-school may be more or less exposed to air pollutants, depending on the route taken, level of traffic on the roadway, and mode of transportation. For instance, children inside diesel-powered school buses are exposed to much higher levels of airborne particulates than those walking along side streets. More research is needed before it can be determined if walking to school increases or decreases children’s exposure to pollution, and if increased, whether this exposure is outweighed by the potential health benefits derived from increased physical activity. Health effects related to neighborhood violence and crime: Walk-to-school programs may increase neighborhood safety and reduce violence, through increased civic participation and parental involvement in communities.

Products Produced

Policy Brief: 

Background Reports


Brian Cole, Dr.PH

UCLA, Box 651772, Rm 61-253 CHS
Los Angeles

(310) 206-4253