There have been several issues raised by various studies as has been highlighted in this report, basically an increase in high energy dense foods and the lack of physical exercise especially in 'incidental exercise' like walking and cycling to school. No surprises there ,you only have to look at the number of bike s in the bike racks at various schools here in the ACT to know that. Back in the day when I attended primary school the bike racks were full, so what has happened over this period of thirty to forty years,. The parents now who were walking and cycling to school are now driving there kids to school.
The perception of safety has become a big issue for most, something that Leonore Skenazy is trying to dispel in her blog ' Free Range Kids'. The ACT is a relatively safe place to ride a bike ,even for school children and even before Mandatory Helmet Laws. Residential road speeds remain quite high compared to European countries as our default speed is 50km/h with some shared zone speeds at 10km/h though rare. That's something we will need to look at if we want to encourage more cycling and walking and also to achieve Vision zero.
Before my kids started school I was not aware of the change in attitudes to local schools and there importance for the fabric of the local community. When the School Closures was announced I received a copy of the report relating to a question that Deb Foskey ( former Greens MLA) asked the newly appointed Education Minister Andrew Barr MLA.Which looked at the number of children within each priority enrollment area (living close to the school) and the schools that they attended.While some schools had low enrollments most of the children in the local area weren't going to the locals schools, but being driven to other schools further away. I like to call them the 'drive-thru' schools. In fact some of these schools, have most of there enrollments from out of area, rather than local children. At morning drop off and pickup there is major congestion.
We also spend millions on school buses to ferry kids around which is heavily subsidized by the ACT Taxpayer and also in NSW, the School buses are free, which is argued that it reduces congestion, though does nothing for active transport. Parental choice in schooling has been the major factor why children are not walking and cycling to school. The Education performance of the school certainly out ways any health and community benefit ,of attending the local school in most parents minds these days.
Australia now matches the US in childhood obesity levels, though other reports have US Childhood obesity levels at one third of children. In any event a worrying statistic. Note the cycling culture countries of the Netherlands and Denmark, you could also add in Belgium and Sweden. I know that Denmark has been concerned about there childhood obesity levels at there current levels, but has now declined amongst most age groups.
While diet is an important factor particularly the consumption of fast foods and sugary drinks. The importance of physical exercise, like walking and cycling to and from school needs more attention from the relevant authorities. The recent Pedestrian and cycle network review only focused on cycling to work. Cycling kids become cycling adults ,infrastructure supporting cycling and walking to school needs to be funded also.
This video highlights the dominance of the car in the ACT and what Holland has been doing to reduce the dominance of the car.
and a video from David Hembrow's blog of cycling to school in Assen, Holland .