Too many Australian children are not doing enough physical activity to maintain good health, a new report reveals.
As thousands of school children return to classrooms around Australia, leading health experts are urging parents and schools to help children become more physically active.
A national collaboration of Australian experts has contributed to a report calling for all children to be supported to walk, ride or scoot at least some distance to and from school every day.
The report, Active Travel: pathways to a healthy future, was prepared by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC), Victoria University, in collaboration with organisations including the National Heart Foundation, VicHealth, Parents Voice and the Australian Primary Principals Association.
It urges governments at all levels to work collaboratively to enable children to be more physically active every day, by improving the physical environments around schools and by helping parents, schools and communities to support children to participate in active travel each day.
More than 70 per cent of Australia’s children and 91 per cent of young people are not meeting the national physical activity recommendation of 60 minutes physical activity every day, according to a 2016 report by the AHPC.
Lack of sufficient physical activity places children and young people at significant risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. It also contributes to higher body weight. One-quarter of all children and 29 per cent of young people are overweight or obese.
Unless they become more active, Australian children are expected to live shorter and unhealthier lives than their grandparents.
Government action is needed to help communities, schools and parents to enable children to increase their levels of daily physical activity.
Achieving active travel such as walking, riding a bike or scooter to and from school is a simple, economically-sound and effective solution.
Director of the AHPC Professor Rosemary Calder said that, as a nation, Australians had stopped moving.
“We are putting our children’s lifetime health at risk because of our reliance on driving our children to and from school. We have taken away the opportunity for them to get enough daily exercise by walking, riding or scooting to school, safely and together as school communities.”
The report calls for improvements to the built environment and infrastructure around schools as a crucial component of a national strategy to get more children participating in daily exercise through active travel.
Parents think they are protecting their children from potential harm by driving them to school, Professor Calder said.
“Nationally we need to help parents and carers feel safe about active travel for their children. For primary school children, setting up drop off zones some distance from each school so that children could walk independently under supervision at least some of the distance to school would rapidly improve children’s physical activity levels,” she said.
The report recommends a national infrastructure grants program to support and enable all schools, communities and local governments to address the barriers to active travel.
In line with global initiatives to reduce the burden of preventable chronic diseases across the world, the AHPC and a national collaboration of Australian experts have set a national target of a 10 per cent increase in physical activity by 2025 to improve the nation’s health.
Active travel for school children is recommended as the most urgent policy priority to improve physical activity rates and health. It is one of 10 priority policy actions identified by AHPC and the national collaboration that will improve the health of all Australians.