Business, Economics and Jobs

Most Australian children driven to school despite parents' wishes


A young girl makes a perilous leap into her father's arms in the rockpools at Bondi Beach on Dec. 25, 2011 in Sydney, Australia.


Don Arnold

More than 60 percent of Australian children are driven to school, even though a vast majority of parents — 80 percent — thought it would improve their kids' health to walk or ride a bike, according to a new survey.

The National Heart Foundation of Australia also found that one in two Aussie kids lived less than 10 minutes from their school, a distance which could easily by cycled or walked.

Parents cited a lack of safe bicycling routes and traffic as key barriers to kids being allowed to ride to school.

"Cycling to school is clearly something that children are able to do and parents want to encourage, but they're being let down by a lack of safe cycle paths," said Dr Lyn Roberts, Heart Foundation CEO.

"The number of children being driven to school has sadly reached a record high — arriving at the school gates by car was rare in the '70s, but now it's the norm for 6 in 10 families, Roberts said.

"We're missing a huge opportunity to tackle childhood obesity, reduce carbon emissions and ease congestion on the roads.

"We urge all levels of Government to invest to ensure the next generation is able to adopt healthy and active options for their daily trip to school."

The Australian Broadcasting Authority quoted Tony Thirlwell, head of the New South Wales branch of the Heart Foundation, as saying he was not surprised by the results of the research.

"I think the fundamental issue is that we haven't designed our cities well in terms of making it easy and safe," he told the ABC.

However, The Sydney Morning Herald cited Jan Garrard, an expert in health promotion at Deakin University, as saying the results showed Australian children were now some of the most overprotected and chauffeured in the world.

Garrard also said parents' concerns were rarely based on sound evidence.

''There's been an increase in parents' perceptions of the danger, including where a child is kidnapped in Portugal, the UK or the USA, suddenly everyone knows about it around the world,'' she told the Herald.

''But you could argue the greatest risk is sitting at home eating chips because that will probably do them more harm in the long run.''