THE BLOG

Walking to School: One Way to Defuse the Childhood Obesity Timebomb

20/05/2015 10:01 BST | Updated 19/05/2016 10:59 BST

It saddened me to open the newspapers today and to see a headline story 'Children's obesity timebomb', without any solutions being put forward.

Keeping active and eating well is key to good health - during childhood and for life. This week, hundreds of thousands of school children up and down the country are taking part in Living Streets' Walk to School Week to raise awareness and to get children walking to school.

Things have changed from the way they used to be. Back in the day, walking to school used to be the norm. In 2015, it is becoming an exception rather than the rule. The walk to school is declining and unless action is taken, things could get worse.

Over 70% of today's parents walked to school as children. This is a stark comparison to less than half of children who walk to school now.

Our children are living a sedentary childhood compared to that of their parents at a similar age. One in three children now leaves primary school either overweight or obese.

Physical inactivity places a burden not just on the health of our children but on their emotional wellbeing and on our health services in the future.

In a recent poll carried out for Living Streets, 57% of parents said their children use computers daily for leisure purposes. In a world where an iPad is fast becoming the new best friend and playing outdoors is a rarity, it is vital that we cling wholeheartedly to the importance of physical activity - and the walk to school can play such a huge part in that.

It is time for the government to step up and make a reality its ambition of getting 55% of primary-aged children walking to school by 2025.

But without a strategy of how this will happen and sustained investment, we are at risk of it never coming to fruition.

Committing to this walk to school target has never been more crucial. The UK's children are some of the least active in the world and with the walk to school in long-term decline, Living Streets is calling for this issue to be placed firmly back on the political agenda. Parents agree too.

We recently commissioned a YouGov survey and 76% of parents feel that getting more children walking to school is a right priority for the government.

Our survey also discovered that many parents feel like the streets are simply not safe enough for children to walk to school.

Speeding cars, aggression from other adults and worrying about stranger danger are some of the everyday barriers parents face in walking to school.

More than two-fifths (42%) of all parents surveyed say they have witnessed physical or verbal aggression between other adults outside the school gates. When it comes to their children walking to school alone, 68% of those parents surveyed said vehicles driving too quickly worries them and 62% worry about stranger danger.

This year, Living Streets is aiming its call directly at the new government, to highlight the ticking timebomb for public health if the issues parents have raised regarding the journey to school aren't tackled.

Some of the key ways of rectifying these problems would be to implement parking enforcement and 20mph speed limits around schools, as well as introducing walking zones.

Over 80% of parents surveyed with children at primary school (82%) feel more schemes, such as park and stride (where parents and carers park in a designated area and walk the last five minutes to school), make the walk to school safer and easier for children and are another right priority for the government.

20mph speed restrictions and parking enforcements around all schools are also a right priority according to 86% of those surveyed along with increasing children's confidence in using the streets (67%).

We need to urge the new government to ensure that the commitment to getting 55% of children walking to school over the next 10 years remains firmly on the political agenda. Parents are telling us these issues should be a government priority, and Living Streets wholeheartedly agree.

The benefits of the walk to school are enormous - it is an easy and cost-effective way to help keep children healthy and active, improves their concentration and is great for their wellbeing.

Over the next 10 years, pupil numbers are going to increase. The walk to school is in long-term decline and it would impact greatly on future generations if something so vital to the health of our children became a thing of the past.