Australian kids are at risk of becoming a backseat generation with more than a third of primary schoolchildren not walking or riding to school despite living nearby, new research shows.
As thousands of schoolchildren return to classrooms across Australia, a new study analysing travel patterns of primary school families has found parents are choosing to drop off their children by car rather than encourage them to walk or cycle – even those living less than 750 metres from their school.
The paper by RMIT University, Australian Catholic University (ACU) and the University of Melbourne researchers surveyed over 700 Victorian households and found convenience played a key role in time-poor parents stopping their children from making their own way to school.
While parents may find it easier to drive their child to school, the habit of “trip-chaining” – where the school run is combined with the work commute or other errands – could lead to long-term damage to the child’s future health, says author Dr Hannah Badland from the RMIT Centre for Urban Research.
“We know that physical inactivity has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, obesity and mental health issues later in life,” she said.
“The school journey is a prime opportunity for promoting children’s active travel, because if children don’t walk or cycle to school, they tend not to walk or ride to any other destination.
“Dropping the children off at school on the way to work may be convenient for parents, but the consequences of this are children missing out on the mental and physical health benefits.”
But the blame should not solely rest with parents, says Badland.
“Our findings show that in order to increase active travel to school and other transport-related physical activity, planners and policy makers need to improve walkability around schools,” she said.
“Schools need to be located in residential neighbourhoods with a variety of walkable destinations and infrastructure such as well-connected footpaths and bike trails, as well as reducing traffic risks and hazards.
“These are all crucial steps in getting more children to make that daily walk or ride to school.”
Lead author Dr Alison Carver from ACU’s Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, says safe drop-off and pick-up zones should be created within 800 metres of primary schools to give children access to a much-needed extra 20 minutes of physical activity each day.
“Research shows that only one in five children meet the recommended level of 60 minutes of physical activity every day,” she said.
“We are doing more harm than good by driving our children to and from school instead of supporting them to walk, ride or scoot all or part-way to school.
“Households need to stop and think about how their children’s journeys are influenced by those of other household members.
“Promoting active travel to school will improve this situation.”
Story: Chanel Bearder