Australian children are not doing enough physical activity to ensure their long-term health.
On the day that kids around the country return to school, a group of national health experts have urged for concerted action to ensure all Australian children have a healthier, more active start to life.
Active Travel: pathways to a healthy future proposes a national approach for all levels of government to enable children to be more physically active on their daily trips to school through better local environments adjacent to schools and greater support for parents, teachers and local communities.
Over 70% of children and 91% of young people are not meeting national physical activity recommendations, and the declining rates physical activity are contributing to childhood overweight and obesity. A quarter of children and 29% of young people are classified as overweight or obese.
As a member of the Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC), We Ride Australia believes that active travel to school is one of the easiest ways to incorporate physical activity into everyday life.
We Ride Australia’s Stephen Hodge says “in addition to various chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers, cognitive and motor skills development and mental health are also improved with regular physical activity,”
“70% of primary school children are now driven to school, but we know that many more would walk, scoot and ride a bike if safer paths and crossings existed in school zones,”
“The AHPC’s report is a national policy framework and implementation strategy for low cost, high impact interventions to enable 3.7 million Australian children to walk, scoot and ride to school,”
“Without a reduction in physical inactivity, we are risking the future health, emotional and economic wellbeing of our children,” said Hodge.
Decline in active travel to school 1971 – 2013 = 42%[i]
50-63% of all children of all ages do not walk at all to or from school each week[ii]
Regular physical activity is recognised as improving academic performance
Sales of children’s bicycles dropped to a ten year low in 2017, dropping 22% from 492,000 in 2007-08 to 382,000
There has been a statistically significant decrease in the level of cycling participation in Australia between 2011 and 2017[iii]
A national survey by We Ride Australia and Heart Foundation[iv] found that while seven in ten parents surveyed think it is important for children to be able to independently ride a bike, close to half do not believe that it is safe for children to ride a bike to school, and
Eight in ten parents surveyed agreed that there is too much traffic on the roads and there are not enough bike paths for children to cycle safely to school
Data from the US shows that an increase in separated cycling infrastructure results in higher rates of cycling and lower injuries[v].
Active Travel: pathways to a healthy future has been prepared in collaboration with and is endorsed by prominent organisations including the National Heart Foundation, VicHealth, We Ride Australia, Parents Voice and the Australian Primary Principals Association. The report calls for improvements to the built environment and infrastructure around schools as a crucial component of a national strategy to get more children participating in daily exercise through active travel.
We Ride Australia is the operating name for the Australian Cycling Promotion Foundation (previously the Cycling Promotion Fund). It builds on nearly 20 years of national advocacy to empower decision makers and inspire all Australians to choose cycling. As an independent voice in Australia, we do this by
securing infrastructure and programs,
disseminating evidence and data to support the role of cycling in community and national agendas,
building the case for investment, and
presenting the positive, healthy and safe reality of daily cycling across the country by children, adults and seniors from all walks of life.
[i] Ploeg, H.v.d., et al., Trends in Australian children travelling to school 1971-2003: Burning petrol or carbohydrates? Preventive Medicine, 2008. 46(1): p. 60-2.
[ii] Duggan, M, Fetherston, H, Harris, B, Lindberg, R, Parisella, A, Shilton, T, Greenland, R & Hickman, D. 2018, Active School Travel: Pathways to a Healthy Future, Australian Health Policy Collaboration, Victoria University, Melbourne. ISBN: 978-0-6482621-9-0P. Page 15.