Ban the school run: Experts call for more active journeys to school to combat childhood obesity crisis

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

by John Stevenson   July 3, 2013  

No parking

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.”

30 user comments

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I doubt this is revelatory to anyone who regularly visits this site but it's good to hear it being said by someone in a position of (relative) influence.

However talk is cheap - actions need to follow and definitive actions at that.

JaseCD

posted by jasecd [167 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 11:03

3 Likes

A good read by a public health expert about how this is a fraction of the wider issue, is "The Energy Glut" by Ian Roberts

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [603 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 11:19

5 Likes

Agreed @jasecd - however hopefully if the Health establishment stops whinging about helmet laws and starts making noise about getting people out of their tin boxes, we might see some joined up thinking

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [567 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 11:23

3 Likes

erm, I sort of really want the car that the child drew Cool

posted by nuclear coffee [169 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 11:38

3 Likes

Ban the school run eh?

Yeah - good luck with that.

posted by Some Fella [823 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 12:07

5 Likes

time and time again i hear the excuse for not cycling being cars.

Yet what is done to get rid of the most dangerous thing on our roads?

I am not anti car, they do have a place, but the way they are treated as status symbols is IMO wrong. The feeling of entitlement that many drivers feel, which i partially blame VED for doesn't help.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1364 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 12:11

3 Likes

Ivan Illich thought about this too, in the 1970s - "energy and equity".

PJ McNally's picture

posted by PJ McNally [591 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 12:14

5 Likes

Great idea but virtually impossible to police I would have thought

posted by JonnieC [12 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 12:33

4 Likes

"Ban the school run" would be a good start, and then lets move on to "ban the short drive to work" because that causes even more traffic, pollution and obesity than the school run. Then ban motor vehicle road based delivery of goods (yes, any motor vehicle delivering any goods!) in the busy commute periods.

With those out of the way (except for those with limited mobility)we'd have roads that children, adults and anyone else could cycle on or walk beside with minimal risk, massive health improvements and all the benefits we keep banging on about.

The flies in the ointment? massive business interests, scared politicians, advertising-induced perceptions of status and generations made lazy by cheap fossil fuels.

Yes its some kind of utopian vision, yes its a hard if not impossible nut to crack; but does that really mean we shouldn't try?

Shay

posted by shay cycles [254 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 12:43

5 Likes

I cannot express how annoyed I get when the same myth that physical activity is an answer to the high obesity levels of today are repeated, and repeated... There is no evidence that if all children cycled to school, there would be no obesity in children.

Real researchers at the University of California and others have proven (in peer reviewed papers) that the claims of cycling activists that cycling would end the obesity "crisis" of today are not supported by evidence. In fact, it is the modern processed food that children eat for pleasure and to match social norms that is the problem and cause of high obesity levels.

RoadCC, like other activists, are looking for any evidence in any context to support a cause. This is not going to bring about the change we need in the longer-term.

posted by IanPerry [7 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 12:50

3 Likes

Love the illustration by the Road.cc staff. Did John draw this? Or was it another staffer?

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1200 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 12:55

5 Likes

IanPerry wrote:
I cannot express how annoyed I get when the same myth that physical activity is an answer to the high obesity levels of today are repeated, and repeated... There is no evidence that if all children cycled to school, there would be no obesity in children.

Real researchers at the University of California and others have proven (in peer reviewed papers) that the claims of cycling activists that cycling would end the obesity "crisis" of today are not supported by evidence. In fact, it is the modern processed food that children eat for pleasure and to match social norms that is the problem and cause of high obesity levels.

RoadCC, like other activists, are looking for any evidence in any context to support a cause. This is not going to bring about the change we need in the longer-term.

I think you are being unfair by suggesting that they think this is the answer. It is part of a puzzle to unlocking healthier children. Kids loaded with simple sugars, high levels of fats and a total calorie intake exceeding their metabolic set point are not going lose weight. But what you can do is make it harder for the poor diet to have a destruction level of effect on their health. If you can get a child active and make sure that they are able to undertake physical activity, then when they get to adulthood it makes it easier for them to take control. You seem to say that making any effort along this line is pointless. But outside of controlling what people buy and eat, this is at least a means of affecting the lives of children. In addition I hate the way the roads are clogged by the army of 4x4 chelsea tractors popping their kids off to school at a time of day when the traffic is already high, so as a cyclist, a road user, a concerned citizen, a environmentalist, and numerous other hats, I welcome this....what answers do you have?

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1200 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 13:03

3 Likes

As a formerly obese adult cyclist, so I can see where you're coming from on this one. I always used to cringe when I heard cycle campaigners touting cycling as a solution to obesity, since I cycled distances of up to 100 miles on my weekend tours in the summer and it never made any difference to my weight. If people don't encounter hills on their daily routes and are using their bikes to cover distances that are actually walkable, utility cycling on its own isn't going to solve their weight problems. But it does help quite a bit with fitness and mobility, and it helps with weight loss as part of a package of measures.

posted by bambergbike [87 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 13:26

4 Likes

Hi Colin, the problem is that obesity is in the headline... and that is what people read.

When claims are made, they need to be backed up by scientific research, but the claims that active travel is a solution to obesity are not.

I taught English in Tokyo some years ago - where young people are reliant on active travel. In a young student's profile, she had written that her hobbies were cheerleading, swimming and McDonalds. 99% of my students were slim. When this student turned up for her class, she struggled to fit through the door.

posted by IanPerry [7 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 13:36

4 Likes

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

But the government has just stated that it wants roads, roads and only roads:
http://road.cc/content/news/86127-future-britain’s-transport-more-roads

Those roads bring more cars and new edge-of-town housing, two such schemes are planned for Shrewsbury. AFAIK these will not be near schools.

But it won't help if they are. Many of the roadhogs and pavement parking louts that drive their kids to our local primary school live near enough to walk. Some of them can't even bother to use the car parks the school request them to. They fill the narrow road by the school, park at popular crossing points and block local residents' access.

Active travel can help reduce both obesity and pollution but most people don't want to put themselves out. Getting in the car every day is the easy, safe option.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2057 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 13:46

4 Likes

Bicycling to school is great but we just need the infrastructure to support it better, even baby steps to get cycle lanes sorted from the school and projecting outwards. We won't get rid of cars soon so we should simply enable road users of all types the safest travel opportunity as possible. Capital Cycles

posted by TeamCC [146 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 13:55

4 Likes

Ian,

Your Tokyo annecdote is hardly scientific now is it?

Bottom line, very simple, and backed by scientific research over very many years is that;

calories in > calories out = obesity

calories out < calories in = weight loss

More physical activity increases the "calories out" value and as long as there is no compensatory increase in the "calories in" value then the weight problem is reduced.

Shay

posted by shay cycles [254 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 15:13

3 Likes

Our local primary introduced a lollipop lady this year. I guess she must cost £25/day tops. A simple measure that completely changes the perceived danger.

That said, my perception is that kids who previously walked with their parents now walk or cycle by themselves, so perhaps no net gain in numbers.

dafyddp's picture

posted by dafyddp [181 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 15:33

3 Likes

It's just not convenient for people so they will not do it unless forced. Most of the people dropping off each at our three primaries, work in town five miles away - or from home. live within a mile of the school and the train station is just two blocks away - with a bike rack for 40 bikes. Will they use either? Nope.

The bottom line is we live in a lazy society of fatties with a grossly inflated sense of self entitlement. The only good news is with a reduction of life expectancy neither they or their chubby sprogs will be around to compete with my kids for work.

My solution would involve boot camps and daily cross country chases pursued by real wolves.

Wow. That felt good. Big Grin

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1093 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 15:33

1 Like

Shay said '"Ban the school run" would be a good start, and then lets move on to "ban the short drive to work"'

Other way around I would say. No point expecting people to walk their kids to school when there are rat-running commuters flying past (as there is with my son's school). Besides I suspect most school runs are part of the commute to work.

posted by Bristolbybike [12 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 16:18

3 Likes

We're eventually going to move towards real time road pricing, with some kind of black box unit in every vehicle.

Short urban journeys at peak times will be priced at a premium whilst long journeys would be much cheaper per mile.

I know that this is currently a pipe dream and neither the infrastructure, political will or a mandate exists for such a scheme. I am, however, talking years in the future when a combination of energy instability, the health of the nation and myriad other factors means that this would be an extremely viable concept.

Britain is hardly forward thinking enough to lead with this so I am sure you will see this type of idea implemented in some European countries or the more progressive states in the US first.

We could also stamp out driving infractions with the same black box.

In the meantime only social pressures would lead to a change in behaviour - this takes time although it is not impossible. Look at social attitudes towards recycling or drink driving for instance.

JaseCD

posted by jasecd [167 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 18:47

2 Likes

JonnieC wrote:
Great idea but virtually impossible to police I would have thought

Not really. All new cars fitted with GPS trackers and exempt from VED. Duty levied by the mile and all journeys less than say 2 miles charged at some stupid rate, say £30 a mile.

School run to cost hundreds per week, that'll sort it.

CycCoSi's picture

posted by CycCoSi [28 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 20:59

1 Like

IanPerry wrote:
Hi Colin, the problem is that obesity is in the headline... and that is what people read.

When claims are made, they need to be backed up by scientific research, but the claims that active travel is a solution to obesity are not.

I taught English in Tokyo some years ago - where young people are reliant on active travel. In a young student's profile, she had written that her hobbies were cheerleading, swimming and McDonalds. 99% of my students were slim. When this student turned up for her class, she struggled to fit through the door.

Well I don't see any answers of a way to chip away at obesity here. I'm not really sure what you're trying to say, but I think you are coming from a very singular point of view. The issues with obesity are myriad. One of the worst is that we are dealing with endemic laziness. Parents are less able to undertake physical activity and do less with their kids. You'd really be surprised how much of an effect it has. Anything that gets kids to go outside is a good thing. The problem for some of these kids is that they don't exercise, find it hard to get started and end up hating it. This makes it hard for them to turn things around. I don't see this as a bad idea.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1200 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 21:12

1 Like

Ban any vehicle movements within 500metres of schools 20 minutes either side of start and finish of the school day.
If i had my way.

posted by Some Fella [823 posts]
3rd July 2013 - 21:52

1 Like

Just to put another spin on this,

Why do parents insist on driving their kids to and from school?

I ask the question honestly as I'm not a parent and do not claim to fully understand the reasoning.

As for the Tokyo example, my hobbies include dreaming of winning the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Giro, le Tour and Vuelta. Spending 3 hours a day watching le Tour. So far this week I've had pie and peas, Big Mac, fish and chips and a hog roast. Does that make me fat?

I once read on the interenet that you should believe everything you read on the internet Thinking

posted by Yorkshie Whippet [343 posts]
4th July 2013 - 7:50

1 Like

IanPerry wrote:

Real researchers at the University of California and others have proven (in peer reviewed papers) that the claims of cycling activists that cycling would end the obesity "crisis" of today are not supported by evidence. In fact, it is the modern processed food that children eat for pleasure and to match social norms that is the problem and cause of high obesity levels.

Can you give references for the research you are referring to? I am genuinely interested in reading these papers.

posted by hoski [69 posts]
4th July 2013 - 10:48

1 Like

bambergbike wrote:
If people don't encounter hills on their daily routes and are using their bikes to cover distances that are actually walkable, utility cycling on its own isn't going to solve their weight problems. But it does help quite a bit with fitness and mobility, and it helps with weight loss as part of a package of measures.

Absolutely. WHO recently said that 300 minutes of activity a week are required to aid weight-loss. Most would be better off walking than riding the 1.5 miles to work/school/shops.

However, making that ride part of the routine becomes a gateway building confidence and fitness through which the beneficial longer & more vigorous rides become accessible.

posted by tarquin_foxglove [92 posts]
4th July 2013 - 13:08

0 Likes

shay cycles wrote:
Ian,

Your Tokyo annecdote is hardly scientific now is it?

Bottom line, very simple, and backed by scientific research over very many years is that;

calories in > calories out = obesity

calories out < calories in = weight loss

More physical activity increases the "calories out" value and as long as there is no compensatory increase in the "calories in" value then the weight problem is reduced.

This is a far too simplistic explanation and not all 'calories' are created equally.

In very simple terms a calorie is a measure of energy but nutrition is far more complex than playing a simple numbers game.

For instance:

Quote:
You have to put twice as much energy in to metabolize protein as you do carbohydrate; this is called the thermic effect of food. So protein wastes more energy in its processing. Plus protein reduces hunger better than carbohydrate.

[Source]

Further reading

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [603 posts]
4th July 2013 - 19:11

2 Likes

IanPerry wrote:
I cannot express how annoyed I get when the same myth that physical activity is an answer to the high obesity levels of today are repeated, and repeated...

Maybe the very specific focus on obesity alone isn't ideal, but seriously?

You can't honestly be arguing with the idea that an active lifestyle is one of the best ways to keep yourself healthy and happy, and starting early makes you far more likely to stick with the habit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUaInS6HIGo

posted by pmanc [144 posts]
5th July 2013 - 12:03

3 Likes

Just to add a different angle, I'm not sure that schools themselves help.*

When I was a kid, me and my mates were into playing football, riding our BMXes, going to the park, oh and a bit of cricket and tennis when it was on TV to get us interested again. It was great.

But at school, I was only good enough to get picked last ("Aww no, we don't want HIM!" was a familiar sound) for anything, so football, rugby, cross-country running and a bit of athletics held no appeal at all. They weren't taught so that you could improve, merely 'done' and if you were awful at them, you struggled through without ever really learning or appreciating them. Consequently I avoided PE like the plague. Judo and my first road bike were where it was at, but I was percieved as just a skinny outcast geek. I avoided school exercise like the plague.

Then I left school, and suddenly wasn't forced to participate in anything. I found that with a bit of encouragement, I was cross-country running for the local Air Cadet Squadron. My running, weight-training and cycling ensured that I entered the military with reasonable fitness.

Since then I've enjoyed more martial arts, gym work and getting more serious about my cycling, but that's because _I_ did it. School PE was focused entirely on the kids that were already sporty. The PE teachers had no time for the rest of us, so the exercise really wasn't inclusive. Fat kids weren't getting any thinner, but the time allocated to PE wasn't used effectively - it was a waste really. THAT could be changed more easily than banning the school run (which would also be a good move).

*CAVEAT: I'm 37 with no kids, so my experience of school risks being out of touch with the present reality. That said, my wife is a teacher and her observations do seem to reflect the above.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3471 posts]
5th July 2013 - 13:21

2 Likes