During Walk to School Week last month, I wrote about the solutions that walking to school can bring for our children's health. I also touched on the need for the government to make a reality its ambition of getting 55% of primary-aged children walking to school by 2025, through strategy and investment.
With the walk to school in long-term decline and the health of our children at an all time low, it's easy to focus on the negative. Traffic speeds, congestion, fears for personal safety are all putting families off walking to school.
But this year's Walk to School Week (18-22 May) showed us that enthusiasm for walking to school is at an all time high, with hundreds of thousands of children getting involved and parents telling us they believe more should be done to get children walking to school.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Living Streets' Walk to School Week, which started with just five schools in 1995. Since then the campaign has grown year on year with over one million pupils, teachers and parents taking part in our classroom walking challenges, events and using our resources. Each year children, families and schools tell us how much they love walking to school.
The time for creating a generation of walkers is now.
The good news is that simple interventions work and can rapidly increase walking rates. Living Streets works year-round in partnership with schools and local authorities to over come barriers to walking, and has a proven track record in seeing fast results.
Living Streets' Walk once a Week (WoW) scheme encourages almost 400,000 children nationwide to walk to school. Children walking at least once a week are rewarded every month with a collectable badge made from recycled yoghurt pots. Walking journeys are tracked through an interactive whiteboard in the classroom - allowing schools and local authorities to chart progress.
In just five weeks, participation in WoW has been shown to increase walking rates by
up to 26%, a figure which is all but sustained one year on. In an average school, this equates to almost 20,000 new walking journeys per year by children and accompanying adults.
But aside from a recycled yoghurt pot badge each month, why should local authorities and schools invest in walking to school? A recent independent study projected that for every £1 invested in Living Streets' Walk to School campaign (including WoW) there is a return of £7.64 in benefits to the wider community ranging from public health, road safety, parking, the environment and local economies.
The health benefits of physical activity are well documented. Walking to school can form an integral part of helping children achieve their recommended daily amount of exercise. Physically active children are more alert, ready to learn, do better in tests and achieve better grades than children who are driven. And when you get your children walking, parents, carers and grandparents get more active too. It also means there are fewer cars on the road. With 1,200 children a month involved in road accidents near schools, fewer cars make the school gates a safer place and reduce congestion and inconsiderate parking.
In the current climate of austerity, which looks set to continue under the new government, we know that local authorities are struggling to balance the books. Investment in sustainable transport also boosts local economies by increasing footfall for nearby shops and businesses, and is a really cost-effective way to improve public health.
Today, I am calling on transport and public health professionals, teachers and any parent who wants to secure a healthy future for their children to champion the walk to school for the benefit of everyone.
At a stage when children form habits for life, walking to school should be a positive and natural choice for children, families and the wider community.
Your schools should WoW - find out how.
Follow Joe Irvin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/livingstreets