We need to get our kids moving, for the sake of their health. As a busy parent I am guilty of sometimes running my kids to school in the car, when I know the walk to and from school is the easiest way to get more exercise. It’s also an important way to reduce traffic congestion, to produce less emissions and spend less on petrol.
Children who walk to school concentrate better. A Danish study of nearly 20,000 children has found that kids who walked or cycled to school were able to concentrate better than others for the first four hours of the day. The researchers were surprised to find that the trip to school was more important than eating breakfast and lunch. The authors concluded that if you’re in the habit of driving your children to school, you’re not really doing them much of a favour.
In 2013 the Heart Foundation found that 63 percent of school children in Australia are taken to school for all or part of the journey by car. This contrasts with just 16 percent who travelled by car in 1970. Over that same period the average weight of kids has increased.
There are many benefits from creating a city that is more friendly for kids and adults to walk around. But there is so little emphasis on making our streets safe for pedestrians that it’s no wonder people just opt to use cars. Yes, as parents we need to start encouraging our kids to walk to school, but we are more likely to do this if we can be confident that there are safe routes to school where kids have clearly marked crossings and cars travel at safe speeds.
As I watch another Walk Safely to School Day come and go with very little real change, it seems we need a number of organisations to work together with an ambition to make our streets more kid friendly. Councils, parents, traffic planners and organisations like the Heart Foundation working together can, over time, create a shift in behaviour and make our streets better for people who want to walk.
Other levels of government also play a role and can be more ambitious and thoughtful when they throw around money for road infrastructure.
We have slipped into this sedentary lifestyle just in the past few decades and it’s bad news for the health of the Australian community. We all make our own choices, but I am confident that if our cities were better designed for walking and cycling, it would help get our kids moving.