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Sustainable transport charity says it's the only way to change kids' habits and pave way for a healthier life ...

Sustrans is calling on the government to make cycle training and maintenance part of the national curriculum in England to help combat childhood obesity, which it says cost the nation £760 million last year. The sustainable transport charity, with the backing of Olympic champion Dani King, says that a minimum standard of everyday cycling education and support should be introduced to schools in England by 2016.

In a report published today called Going for Gold, Sustrans urges the government to incorporate cycling within the national curriculum, including regular safety and maintenance training and ensuring that students are able to park their bike at their school.

According to Sustrans, the current one-off sessions offered are not effective in changing habits, with only 2 per cent of children cycling to school regularly.

The introduction of a new gold standard, it says, would mean that exercise would become part of their daily routine, potentially saving billions of pounds in healthcare costs in the long run and enable people to lead healthier lifestyles.

Three schools so far – two in Surrey and one in Kent – have so far reached gold standard, each having trebled the number of children cycling.

According to the Going for Gold report:

Our children are increasingly suffering from obesity and poor health caused by physical inactivity. Only one in forty 11-year-olds meets the target of an hour of physical exercise a day. One of the major reasons for this is the loss of independence and freedom to be out and about and active in childhood.

Changing this will directly benefit children and our economy:

• the NHS is expected to spend nearly £10 billion every year on obesity by 2050 when it is predicted that 70% of girls and 55% of boys will be overweight or obese
• physical activity is positively related to children’s academic performance
• with nearly a quarter of cars on urban roads at 8.40am taking children to school, getting children out of cars and onto two wheels will reduce congestion.
 
Health professionals are clear that regular exercise is crucial to a healthy lifestyle, and evidence shows that ensuring children can walk or cycle to school is a cost-effective way of beginning to tackle all of these issues. The success of our Olympic cyclists has inspired children, providing a window of opportunity, and young people want to cycle:

• nearly half of children say they want to cycle to school, yet only 2% do
• most children have access to a bicycle
• nearly half of boys and 36% of girls aged 11-12 ride a bike for fun at least weekly
• the average journey to primary school is 1.5 miles and for secondary school 3.5 miles – both well within cycling distance

Translating this into higher levels of physical activity is a real challenge, but the evidence from Sustrans’ work is that it is possible to achieve.

Sustrans calls on the Government to make a step-change in physical activity levels amongst children in England and significantly increase cycling to school by 2016 by:

• integrating cycling into the school curriculum
• investing to achieve a quarter of children cycling to school regularly today.

Malcolm Sheppard, chief executive of Sustrans, commented: “It’s a national tragedy that so few of our children are able to enjoy the benefits of daily exercise and the freedom of cycling to school.

“Competitive sport is great but it’s not for everyone – we need opportunities for our Olympic-inspired kids to be active every day.“

King, who won team pursuit gold in London this summer alongside Joanna Rowsell and Laura Trott – the trio are also the reigning world champions – said: “I speak to so many kids who would love to cycle to school but they don’t have the right training to do so safely or the facilities at school for their bikes.

“We know kids who cycle to school are healthier, more confident and perform better in their lessons.

“If we want to see a real change in the number of kids riding to school, and the benefits that entails, we need a minimum level of cycling education and facilities in every school in the UK.”

 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.