Walking to school has future benefits

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7040.1229b (Published 11 May 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:1229
  1. Ian Roberts
  1. Director Child Health Monitoring Unit, Institute of Child Health, London WC1N 1EH

    EDITOR,—Helen Trippe highlights the important role of government policy in encouraging physical activity in schoolchildren.1 The government's new policy statement on sport, Raising the Game, proposes a minimum of two hours of sport and physical education a week for all children up to age 16.2 For Trippe, the policy statement is a start but is not enough: “Interventions to change children's preferred activity levels need to start early, probably in primary schools, or better still at home,” she writes. Here she, like the government, is missing out on the action. The journey to school accounts for 35% of all journeys made by children and has the potential to make an important contribution to levels of physical activity. However, since 1975, the average distance walked by schoolchildren has fallen by 27%, largely because of the increasing proportion of journeys to school made by car, which has risen from 12% in 1975 to 23% in 1989-94.3

    The change in childhood travel patterns has important implication for health and equity. Firstly, patterns of physical activity forged in childhood may carry over into adult life. The school-home journey of childhood melds seamlessly into the work-home journey of adulthood. With only a handbrake and a handful of birthdays between the passenger's seat and the driver's seat, it may be unrealistic to expect the chauffeured children of today to become the ambulant adults of tomorrow.

    Secondly, driving children to school increases the risk of injury, as pedestrians, for the children who walk. As might be expected, poorer children, from families without a car, are more likely to walk. Traffic volume is the strongest environmental risk factor for child pedestrian injury, and the Department of Transport estimates that 20% of traffic during the weekday morning travel period is made up of children being driven to school.3 Taken together, this amounts to the motoring equivalent of secondary smoking.

    Two hours of sport a week is a step in the right direction, but a healthy transport policy would do far more to encourage physical activity.


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