Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Call to ban car run to school gates to tackle childhood obesity

Parents should have to drop children off a few hundred yards away from school so they get a small amount of exercise, a public health expert said

Parents should be banned from driving their children to school gates in a bid to cut down on a rising tide of childhood obesity, UK's leading public health expert has said.

Professor John Ashton, who took over as president of the Faculty of Public Health on Wednesday, said that if parents must drive their children to school they should have to drop them off a few hundred yards away so children get a small amount of exercise.

In an interview with The Times, Prof Ashton said fears of a "nanny state" should not stand in the way of strong Government action to improve health.

"We're used to the idea that our children are not going to be as well off as we have been," he told the newspaper. "But I don't think anybody has really expressed yet that they may not be as healthy either.

"One of the things we really should be doing is strictly prohibiting cars stopping outside school to drop kids off but have 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 ... it would make a difference."

He also praised efforts by councils to ban fast food outlets near schools.

The latest figures suggest one in three children is overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.

Prof Ashton, who is director of public health in Cumbria, added: "We have had 100 years of progress in statistics of longevity and health and wellbeing, and there is evidence now that things are stalling.

"The golden generation, now in their 90s, have really benefited from traditional lifestyles - walking to school and work, not going everywhere in the car, not having junk food - but that has been coupled with the benefits of modern medicine. What we've now got is generations coming through where there has been a deterioration of lifestyles."

Philip Insall, health director at sustainable transport charity Sustrans, 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."

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