Over two fifths of UK children worried about air pollution near their school

Mark Beaumont with school children Big Pedal 2018 launch event

Mark Beaumont at the Big Pedal 2018 launch event. Image credit: Andrew Lyons Photography

Big Pedal 2018 launch event at Torkington Primary School, Greater Manchester

Image credit: Andrew Lyons Photography

23 April 2018

Over two fifths (43%) of children living in urban areas are concerned about the levels of air pollution near their school, new figures reveal.

A YouGov poll, carried out for Sustrans, surveyed over 1,000 children aged 6 to 15 years old about their attitudes towards air pollution and the actions they think should be taken to help clean up the air.

More than one in three (38%) of those surveyed think that encouraging more people to cycle, scoot or walk to school is the best way to help to reduce levels of air pollution, while a further 16% feel that reducing the number of journeys taken by car would play the greatest role.

The survey also revealed:

  • The number of children concerned about air pollution rose to over half (53%) in London
  • More than one in three (34%) think that politicians are most responsible for bringing down levels of air pollution, while over a quarter (29%) believed drivers are most accountable.
  • 34% said having a shorter distance to travel would most encourage them to walk, cycle or scoot to school, followed by fewer cars on the road (12%) and separated from traffic cycling routes (11%).
  • More than half (57%) of the children surveyed said they were told about air pollution by their school.

Air pollution is one of the leading environmental public health crises in the UK today[i]. Children are among the most vulnerable and more than 2,000 schools and nurseries are near to roads with damaging levels of motor emissions[ii].

Sustrans is calling on the UK Government and local authorities to invest in cycling and walking infrastructure and further training and engagement programmes which will enable more young people to travel actively to school every day.

Xavier Brice, Sustrans’ CEO, said: “We’re in the midst of an air quality crisis. This survey demonstrates for the first time that children are aware and concerned about poor air quality. We wanted to hear their views on the matter, as they are some of the most susceptible to the adverse effects of air pollution, which can lead to poor lung and brain development and asthma if exposed for long periods of time at a young age.

“More needs to be done to improve air quality near schools and help protect future generations. One of the best ways to do this, is by reducing the number of journeys taken by car each day in favour of walking, cycling or scooting the school run.

“The UK Government needs to show leadership by helping local authorities fund and deliver better cycling and walking infrastructure so that every child is able to travel on foot or by bike to school in safety and with confidence. Failure to act now on high levels of air pollution has the potential to have a detrimental impact on children’s health.”

The survey has been released to launch the Big Pedal 2018 (23 April – 4 May), the UK’s largest schools competition to encourage more young people to cycle, walk and scoot to school. Held annually by Sustrans, this year’s event will see more than half a million children and young people get on their bikes and scooters for their journeys to and from school. 

World record-breaking cyclist Mark Beaumont, who has today launched the Big Pedal in Torkington Primary School in Greater Manchester, said: “We need to encourage more children and parents to walk, scoot or cycle to school by shouting about the benefits of travelling actively for shorter journeys. Fewer cars around school gates will play a significant role in reducing congestion and improving the quality of the air we breathe. Events like the Big Pedal can demonstrate to children, parents and teachers just how easy it can be to travel actively to and from school.”

Alison Cook, Director of Policy at the British Lung Foundation, adds: “Air pollution is a danger to everyone’s health and children are among those most vulnerable as their lungs are still developing. Childhood is a time for learning and playing, not worrying. It’s sad to see that so many children are concerned about the air they breathe. To help cut emissions, the Government must provide incentives for walking, cycling and using public transport as part of a comprehensive Clean Air Act.”

For further information, images and interviews, and the full version of the YouGov survey, please contact:

Anna Galandzij, Senior Press Officer at Sustrans, [email protected], 07557 915648
Liv Denne, Press and Media Officer at Sustrans, [email protected], 07768 035318.

About the survey

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1185 children. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd - 27th March 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK Children (aged 6-15+).
Prior to being asked if they were concerned about air pollution near their school, all respondents were provided with a short description outlining what air pollution is: “Air pollution occurs when gases, dusts, particles and fumes are added into the atmosphere in way that makes it harmful to humans, animals and plants. Air pollution levels can vary a lot in different areas.”

Further findings from the YouGov survey:

  • 68% of children live two miles or less from their school.
  • The number of children cycling to school remains low in the UK. Currently the main way of travel is 3% cycle, 1% scoot and 47% walk.
  • Almost a third (32%) of children are driven to school, with or without a period of walking, cycling, scooting, and a further 14% take the bus.

Recent research from BMJ Sports Medicine highlights that banning traffic on school routes will encourage even more children to walk or cycle and calls for investment in cycling and walking.
Further details about the research can be found here: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2018/03/09/bjsports-2017-098933


[i] Annual report of the Chief Medical Officer 2017: Health impacts of all pollution – what do we know?, 2018

[ii] Joint investigation by Guardian and Greenpeace reveals, 2017