Birmingham’s childhood obesity problem could be tackled with mass rollout of good quality safe cycle and walking routes to schools, Sustrans' West Midlands Regional Director Yvonne Gilligan said as part of National Obesity Week.
She said that the city could follow in the footsteps of healthy cities such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam, which invested in good quality safe cycling and walking infrastructure and now have low levels of obesity in all ages.
Recent research by the National Child Measurement Programme found that Birmingham has one of England’s most severely overweight five year olds. The study also found 20 Year 6 children in Birmingham weighed 16 stone or more in the five years from 2008/09. Around 40 per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds in Birmingham are overweight or obese - and one in four of these Year 6 pupils is clinically obese.
Yvonne Gilligan said: “The government recommends 60 minutes of exercise for Year 6 children but we know most youngsters don’t get anything like this amount. Part of the problem is that children used to walk or cycle to school but now they sit in the back of a car. Although most children live only 20 minutes cycle ride or less from their schools parents are understandably afraid to cycle with their children as our roads don’t have separate cycle paths between home and school.
“We have a fantastic opportunity to take the initiative and tackle our unhealthy transport habits. Birmingham has started a lot of great work with the Birmingham Cycle Revolution but to really change this investment needs to be much more significant, so most people can use safe, healthy travel if they want. We need at least £10 per head spent on segregated or traffic-free cyclepaths to make a difference. As we see from cycle-friendly cities in Europe or in cities like Bristol or York, all the evidence shows that if good quality infrastructure is in place, people will use it.”
She added: “Sustrans works with many schools in Birmingham to help encourage more cycling and we know that children love getting this bit of fun and exercise first thing in the morning and after school. It helps them concentrate better, keeps them fit and makes them happier and healthier. And less cars on the roads means less air pollution and traffic congestion. It makes economic and health sense to invest in safe cycling.”
Sustrans started the Campaign for Safer Streets in 2014. The organisation believes that every child has the right to a safe route to school and that everyone can choose to walk and cycle to work and school, for fun and transport. Last year Sustrans and other transport and health campaign groups achieved a major step forward when the Government agreed to include a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy as part of the Infrastructure Act. It commits the Government to set out a long term plan to boost walking and cycling levels, to make walking and cycling more attractive and safe for people everywhere.