New UK health chief says cities should be restructured for active travel

Professor John Ashton, the new president of the Faculty of Public Health today, has said that motorised school runs should be banned to help protect the health and fitness of children.

Talking to The Times, Professor Ashton said: “We’re used to this idea that our children are not going to be as well off as we have been. But I don’t think anybody has really expressed yet that they may not be as healthy either.”

Latest figures show that one in three children is overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. One simple way to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity would be for kids to walk to school, or to ride their bikes.

“One of the things we should be doing is really strictly prohibiting cars stopping outside school to drop kids off but having drop-off points, if at all, a few hundred yards away so at least the children get to walk a quarter of a mile each day from the dropping-off point,” Professor Ashton said.

A school headteacher told road.cc: “I am amazed daily at the amount of parents who insist on driving their children to school.

"Children enjoy walking or cycling to school with their friends and are often keener than their parents to make a difference to the environment by leaving the car at home.”

Restructure cities

Professor Ashton also said that that cities must be restructured and re-engineered to tackle the problems with modern life that are driving rises in obesity and other public health failures.

He said that public health efforts must focus on town planning as much as on general health and argued that diet, exercise and stress must be united as symptoms of a deeper problem with modern lifestyles.

Cycling charity Sustrans also supports the call for a non-motorised school run.

Sustrans health director, Philip Insall said: “Too many of the UK’s children are overweight or obese and the decline in walking and cycling to school is a major contributor to the inactivity epidemic.

“The average journey to secondary school is just 3.5 miles and for primary school it’s only 1.5 miles – distances that could easily be walked or made by bike for a healthy start to the day.”

One obstacle to more children riding to school is the perceived danger from traffic.

Philip Insall said: “It is critical that traffic speed and volume is addressed so it is possible for more children to walk and cycle their local journeys.

“Slower speeds and improved cycle training are key to making our roads safer, but so is a change in thinking – the car should no longer be king in our towns and cities.”

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.