Stop prioritizing the car to tackle childhood obesity, governments / planners urged

April 9, 2018, British Medical Journal
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The UK governments need to ditch a 42-year-old trend and stop prioritizing the car if they are serious about tackling childhood obesity, insist clinicians and transport experts in a call to action, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The dominance of the "windscreen perspective" whereby governments and planners view the world from quite literally the driving seat, has allowed to become the "default choice," argue the authors.

Consequently, investment in road building far exceeds that for active travel—public transport, footpaths, and cycle lanes— "resulting in an environment that often feels too risky for walking or cycling," they suggest.

The average length of a 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 , they 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, they suggest.

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.

In an accompanying letter, sent to all four UK transport ministers—Chris Grayling in England; Humza Yousaf (Scotland); Ken Skates (Wales); and Karan Bradley (Northern Ireland)—the authors point to significant savings to the NHS, reductions in pollution levels, and ingraining sustainable travel behaviours among future generations if active travel were to be prioritised.

"The rhetoric of improving the environment in favour of children's active has been visible for at least two decades, but tangible changes have largely been absent from transport planning," they write.

"We suggest the time is right to redress the imbalance and give back to today's children many of the freedoms that older adults recall and benefited from in terms of the levels of independent mobility," they conclude.

Explore further: Children who travel to school independently are more satisfied and perform better in school

More information: Editorial: There is too much traffic for Alex to walk to school, so we drive: a call to action based on a 42 year old trend, DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-098933

Letter to Ministers: There is too much traffic for Alex to walk to school so we drive, DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-099261

Related Stories

Children who travel to school independently are more satisfied and perform better in school

January 19, 2018
Traveling to school is just not about getting from home to school. A new doctoral thesis from Karlstad University shows how the choice of mode of transport and activities during the trip affects children's well-being and ...

Shedding light on children's physical activity

March 24, 2017
A new study highlights some of the barriers children face in being more physically active in their local neighbourhoods.

Footpaths and parks support active school commute

May 29, 2015
While it probably won't make the idea of attending school more appealing social scientists say different infrastructure and behaviour change programs are key to encouraging young people to take a more active route to school.

Parents 'need to be convinced' to let children walk to school

May 22, 2014
Parents need to be convinced about the benefits of their children walking or cycling to school as much as the children themselves, according to research led at the University of Strathclyde.

Stepping out: Children negotiating independent travel

August 14, 2013
A two-year study has revealed the final years of primary school are critical for developing children's confidence and independence to travel without their parents in their communities.

Car ownership has the biggest influence over how much exercise Londoners do while travelling

June 28, 2016
Owning a car or bicycle has the strongest influence on how much active travel a Londoner engages in. Car ownership leaves them two to three times less likely to travel actively. And in Outer London, simply owning a bicycle ...

Recommended for you

Obesity plagues rural America

June 19, 2018
(HealthDay)—Country folk are being hit harder by the U.S. obesity epidemic than city dwellers, two new government studies show.

Binging, purging and fasting more common in overweight, obese young adults

June 12, 2018
Young adults who are overweight or obese are twice as likely as their leaner peers to binge and purge, use laxatives or diuretics, or force themselves to vomit as a means of controlling their weight, according to a new study ...

Study offers new hope for the fight against genetically determined obesity

June 3, 2018
Around 2 to 6 percent of all people with obesity develop the condition in early childhood. Obesity-causal mutations in one of the 'appetite genes' gives them a strong genetic predisposition for developing obesity, also called ...

Abnormal lipid metabolism in fat cells predicts future weight gain and diabetes in women

May 31, 2018
The inefficient breakdown of fats predicts later weight gain and metabolic complications such as type 2 diabetes in women, researchers report May 31 in the journal Cell Metabolism. Low levels of hormone-stimulated lipolysis—a ...

Antidepressant use may contribute to long-term population weight gain

May 24, 2018
Researchers at King's College London have found that patients prescribed any of the 12 most commonly used antidepressants were 21% more likely to experience an episode of gain weight than those not taking the drugs, (after ...

Bid to beat obesity focuses on fat that keeps us warm

May 24, 2018
A new technique to study fat stores in the body could aid efforts to find treatments to tackle obesity.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.