Monday, April 09, 2018

Curb cars to fight child obesity, say doctors and transport experts

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The UK governments need to ditch a 42-year trend and stop prioritising the car if they are serious about tackling childhood obesity.

That is the message of a call to action by clinicians and transport experts published online tonight in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The authors point out that the average length of a school journey has nearly doubled since the 1980s to just under 4 miles in 2013. But the age at which parents will allow their children to go to school by themselves has been steadily creeping up amid fears about road safety.

So they drive their children to school. But what is often not recognised is just how much air pollution children travelling by car are exposed to inside the vehicle under urban driving conditions, the authors point out.

Encouraging independent travel not only helps shed the pounds, but has knock-on social and mental health benefits, and it breaks the cycle of normalising car travel for future generations, the authors say.

They admit there is no single solution, but safe routes to school are needed. The UK could adopt the school travel initiatives pioneered by Germany, The Netherlands, and Denmark.

And it could plough more cash into the Sustainable Travel Towns programme, already implemented in some parts of the UK.

This programme of town-wide measures, which aims to curb car use, has helped boost economic growth, cut carbon emissions and promote quality of life in those areas where it has been adopted, the authors point out.

“For a fraction of the road building programme cost, we could see not just safe routes to schools, but, even more importantly, safe routes wholesale across urban areas," they argue.

I offered similar arguments myself in my essay in Graham Watson's edited collection Liberalism - Something to Shout About in 2006.


Anonymous said...

All very sensible. This is also linked to another point about the size of schools: the length of journeys to school has risen in large part because schools themselves are getting bigger, so less rooted in specific communities, which may itself contribute to fears about safety in a more anonymous environment.

Frank Little said...

We need more cycle lanes. Apart from a few New Towns, we have never followed up on the cycle revolution which started on the continent over 75 years ago.