Is walking the route to better health for our children?
Media Coordinator for safe streets charity Living Streets Jayne Phenton believes the latest childhood obesity statistics show the need for more children to walk to school:
The data for 2011-12 from the National Child Measurement Programme released on 12 December 2012, shows an increase in the number of children who are overweight or obese. One in three children in the final year of primary school is now overweight or obese and while the rise is small, the trend is growing.
While the obesity trend for children in the UK is on an upward trajectory, the numbers of children who walk to school has been decreasing steadily over the last few decades and now only 49% of children walk to school while the majority of the remainder are taken in the car.
All statistics indicate that children’s lifestyles are becoming more sedentary. Less than a third of boys and a quarter of girls get the recommended one hour of exercise each day putting them at risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and numerous other chronic conditions later in life.
The recently published NICE Guidance on Walking and Cycling cites physical inactivity as the greatest health risk in the UK next to smoking and the fourth biggest cause of premature fatalities globally. Critically it calls on local authorities, transport organisations and planners to create an urban environment sympathetic to active travel.
Walking to school is an easy way to fit some physical activity into a child’s day and build healthy habits for the future. Living Streets runs Walk to School programmes for 1.9 million children across the UK. Schemes such as WoW (Walk Once a Week) reward children with collectable badges for walking to school and achieve increases in walking levels of up to 32%.
Walking to school reaps health benefits for children and for their local communities. The school run accounts for one fifth of car journeys at peak times, contributing significantly to pollution and congestion.
Feedback from children, parents and teachers whose schools take part in WoW is positive. Parents of children at a school in Hertfordshire said that not only did the Walk to School schemes make the journey to school ‘less stressful’, but 48% said that, as a consequence, ‘There is less traffic outside school so it is easier and safer to walk’.
But probably the best advocates for walking to school are the children themselves. Debbie from Manchester started walking with her three children, Omar, aged six, Hamzah, aged four, and their sister Danyah, who though only three, happily walks alongside her older siblings.
Debbie said: “Since Omar’s school started the Livings Streets WoW scheme the children have become so enthusiastic about walking that we walk to school every day. They are slim, active and full of life; Danyah used to sit in the buggy, but she has become stronger and likes to walk with her brothers. Omar complains if we travel by car now and asks ‘why can’t we walk?’, even on a recent trip to Scotland.”