The road less travelled

Getting Aussie kids moving

Fitness experts and our own lived experience tells us that incorporating more activity into our daily routines - getting off one bus stop early, taking the stairs, or walking to work - is an easy but highly effective way to counteract the harmful effects of our sedentary lifestyle. It’s no different for children. A report by UniSA researchers says supporting our children to use active transport to get to or from school could be a life-changer for them.

A progress report card released by Active Healthy Kids Australia (AHKA), and led by researchers at the University of South Australia, has given Australian children a middle-of-the-road C grade when it comes to using active transport to and from school.

The report card, titled ‘The Road Less Travelled’, focuses on the use of active transport by school students and found that only half of Australia’s children and young people walk, ride, scoot or skateboard their way to or from school at least once a week.

This year’s findings follow on from Australia’s first ever physical activity report card in which Australian kids were graded a D minus overall, narrowly avoiding a fail. AHKA plan to release a report card each year to promote positive lifestyle behaviours of increased physical activity participation and reduced sedentary behaviours among the Australian children and young people of today and tomorrow.

Dr Natasha Schranz

AHKA Research Fellow Dr Natasha Schranz (pictured right), who completed both her undergraduate and PhD studies at UniSA, says just below half of primary school students and just above half of secondary school students use active transport to or from school once a week or more.

“We set the bar quite low in this report card, but still only managed a C,” Dr Schranz says.

“We need to find the right balance between wanting our children and young people to be physically active as much as possible every day, and what is practical and achievable for Australian families.”

Parents of children aged 5-6 years and 9-10 years reported that 45 per cent and 47 per cent respectively used active travel to or from school at least once per week. The results were slightly better for high school students, but not by much: 59 per cent reported using active travel to or from school at least once per week.

Dr Schranz says reasons why this has happened include:

  • Safety – stranger danger and road traffic safety concerns.
  • The distance kids are willing or allowed to go – the distance children can or will navigate on their own has dramatically declined compared to that of past generations.
  • Family and home life – families are smaller, meaning there are fewer siblings to ride or walk to school with; more families now have two working parents; and more families own at least two cars, with time being a large factor in the school drop off before work for working families.
  • Location – schools are further away from homes these days, as more children go to private schools and small schools have been amalgamated into super schools.

“Children who use active transport to get to or from school are not only more physically active than those who do not, but also accumulate more daily minutes of health enhancing activity, take more steps, expend more energy over the day and generally have better physical fitness.

“The time to act is now. We need to be looking for every opportunity to help kids be more active, and given active transport is inclusive for all, we need to encourage the children of today for whom active transport is the ‘road less travelled’ to engage in more than what is currently being done.”

Dr Schranz says in order to improve the C grade and increase the number of Australian children and young people using active transport to and from school, a combined effort is needed from parents, the education sector, community groups, urban planning and transport sectors and government at all levels.

She suggests things that can be done now, in order to make a meaningful difference in the future, include:

  • Encouraging schools to have active transport policies.
  • Parents implementing ‘park and ride’ strategies where older children are dropped off and picked up at a distance away from the school grounds, or use public transport for part of their journey.
  • Ensuring that surrounding school neighbourhoods have high street connectivity and optimal density levels to support and encourage active commuting to and from school.
  • Communities advocating to councils for changes being made to the physical environment that make it easier for children to negotiate traffic, such as adequate crossing infrastructure and measures to slow traffic, so children can travel on safe walking and riding paths.

The 2015 progress report card can be viewed online at the Active Healthy Kids Australia website.

To support Dr Schranz and her team at UniSA continue this research into helping our kids become more active please visit: Support Health Research

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