Statement from Todd Harper, CEO VicHealth, 20 April 2010
Recent reports of some schools in Victoria implementing a ‘no bike' policy are worrying.
With growing concern around increasing levels of childhood obesity, it’s hard to understand such a move. Too many children are physically inactive and schools should be encouraging students to exercise.
Recent research has revealed that the number of students walking to school in Melbourne between 1974 and 2003 fell from 45 per cent to 15 per cent. Car travel to school in that time increased from 23 per cent to 70 per cent. This is despite most children living close enough to walk or ride a bicycle to school.
As a society we get so fixated on the risk issue that we are missing really important issues like obesity.
The frightening fact is that even in the past 25 years, the number of children aged seven to 15-years-old who are overweight and obese has risen from one in 10 to one in four.
It’s for this reason we need to continue to work with schools to help them find solutions to problems like bike storage, and support changes that make everyday living more active.
Just as important is to continue to support communities and councils to improve walkways and look at other issues of good urban planning to encourage kids to walk or ride to school, to reduce dependency on cars and to improve safety.
Various studies have shown that neighbourhoods play an extremely important role in allowing children to get the level of physical activity they need to be healthy. The reason for this is quite simple – the more time children spend outdoors, the more they are likely to be physically active.
Today, very few children explore their neighbourhood, compared to only one generation ago. Children are more likely to be confined to their homes and their own ever shrinking backyards.
A study by the VicHealth and the Australian Council for Education Research, released in April this year, has shown children who walk to school are more physically active overall.
These children are also significantly more connected with their local community.
Worryingly, however, only one in four nine to 12-years-olds involved in the study had walked to school in the past five days.
Generally speaking, international and Australian studies have shown that the age at which children are allowed to travel without adult supervision has risen as our society becomes more concerned about risks.
We need to focus on what’s really important – and in an age of increasing obesity rates, the long-term health of our children should be at the top of our priorities.
Having ‘no bike policies’ in schools makes it harder for kids to lead an active lifestyle, not easier.