Walking to school: creating a culture of active living for kids

Walking to school: creating a culture of active living for kids

Marzena Zukowska's picture


With an increasing child obesity rate, Canadian children are more and more at risk of developing serious chronic conditions, such as type II diabetes, cancers and hypertension.

While the challenges seem immense, sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. To make children more active, the Quebec’s branch of the Canadian Cancer Society has developed Trottibus, a walking program for elementary students to travel to and from schools. Trottibus is also an Early Entry Prize winner of The Play Exchange challenge!

The trips are safe, supervised by volunteers, and fun for the kids. “It builds up our muscles, and we can talk with our friends on the way,” said Raphaël and Julia, two children who have participated in the program.  So how exactly is Trottibus building a culture of healthy living for kids in Quebec? Geneviève Le Gruiec-Durocher gives us the full scoop:    


Changemakers: How did you come up with the idea for Trottibus?

Geneviève Le Gruiec-Durocher: In 2009, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention and Health Promotion department was tasked with launching a volunteer project to literally get people moving. A literature review revealed that walking school buses are an excellent way to get young children to be more active. For the Canadian Cancer Society, it was also a unique and effective way to promote a physically active lifestyle, and another step in its mission to reduce the prevalence of cancer. Thanks to the Fund for the Promotion of a Healthy Lifestyle (now “Québec en forme”) and several partners, Trottibus has been launched in three pilot schools in Quebec.


Changemakers: How does Trottibus help kids adopt healthy living habits?

Geneviève Le Gruiec-Durocher: Active transportation contributes significantly to the adoption of a physically active lifestyle, and Trottibus is an excellent way to achieve that kind of lifestyle. An outside firm conducted a survey of parents of Trottibus users, and the results show a positive impact on transportation-related habits: “Besides appreciating the experience and the numerous benefits associated with Trottibus, three-quarters or more felt that participating in Trottibus was helping to improve their family’s perceptions and/or behaviours regarding active transportation.”


Changemakers: Can you explain how your organization’s development and approach was influenced by your local context and by the needs and history of the people you serve?

Geneviève Le Gruiec-Durocher: The Canadian Cancer Society has been fighting cancer for over 75 years! Initially involved in helping those affected by cancer, it also began to focus on cancer research, screening and prevention. Thanks to the hard work of the Canadian Cancer Society, its 30,000 volunteers and its partners, more and more people are receiving new treatments and beating cancer. Knowing that approximately 50% of cancers could be prevented by healthy living habits and public policies, the Canadian Cancer Society is rolling out more and more preventive activities, including Trottibus.


Changemakers: How do you convince parents and children to participate in your program?

Geneviève Le Gruiec-Durocher: It is fairly easy to encourage them to see by themselves that, with Trottibus, children travel safely to and from school, are more physically active, are happy to walk with their friends or make new ones, develop a sense of belonging to a group, and are more focused in school. The fact that traffic around schools is reduced is another excellent selling point.


Changemakers: What kind of reactions do you get from parents and children who participate in the program?

Geneviève Le Gruiec-Durocher: Here are some testimonials showing the participants’ appreciation:

“Kids leave their houses and join the volunteers, who are clearly identified by their vests, and they are proud of going to school on foot.”

—Marc Langevin, health and physical education teacher

“It’s great for the kids, because they’re getting physical exercise and coming to school more focused.”

—Paula, mother of children who use Trottibus, in an interview with Dominic Brassard of the Radio-Canada radio show “Culture physique”

“It gives us big leg muscles, and we can talk with our friends.”

—Raphaël and Julia, two children participating in Trottibus


Changemakers: What is your main challenge today?

Geneviève Le Gruiec-Durocher: The challenge now is mainly to secure funding to continue to offer the service to schools free of charge. Although recruiting volunteers can also be challenging, there are several ways to meet that challenge.


Changemakers: If someone told you they were interested in investing in Trottibus, what could you tell them to convince them that their money would make a difference?

Geneviève Le Gruiec-Durocher: One of the great strengths of Trottibus is that it mobilizes a community around a unifying project to improve the health and quality of life of both the young and the not so young. By investing in Trottibus, a sponsor would be associating itself with a national organization that is very well known and has a great deal of credibility, which could be nothing but positive for the sponsor’s image. Such a sponsor would be showing a willingness to help reduce the prevalence of cancer among Quebeckers from a young age, and to help the Canadian Cancer Society save more lives. Lastly, the sponsor would achieve greater visibility since, with its originality and its capacity to draw smiles from young participants, Trottibus attracts various media outlets whenever events are organized.


Changemakers: What does the future look like for healthy and active living in Canada? What trends can we expect?

Geneviève Le Gruiec-Durocher: Canadians are becoming more informed about ways they can maintain or improve their health. Many have already taken action, but a great deal of work still needs to be done to halt and reverse the increase in obesity rates and related diseases such as cancer. We believe that in the coming years, communities, businesses and families will mobilize to improve the quality of food available throughout Canada and to make it easier to lead a physically active lifestyle. Trottibus is a good example of such mobilization.


Changemakers: What will you do with your Early Entry Investment from this competition? What impact will it have?

Geneviève Le Gruiec-Durocher: This investment will be put towards our ongoing evaluation of the Trottibus program. It is important for us to regularly evaluate our practices to make sure we are actually meeting the needs of families and schools, and to use our findings to make adjustments as necessary.


Editor’s Note:  The Play Exchange is excited to announce the top three early entry winners! Learn more about the innovative solutions of COMPASS, Trottibus, and Femme and the Forest, and how you can participate by visiting www.playexchange.ca today! 

Follow #PlayExchange on Twitter for competition news and current trends in innovation, and check out the Facebook page to become part of the conversation.



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