We all grumble these days as we are filling our petrol tanks that fuel prices are rising to an all time high. When fuel prices go up, people often think twice about getting in their cars, especially for short trips. Cycling or walking to work or to run errands saves time and money, adds exercise into your daily routine, and helps reduce pollution. With the high cost of the school runs, more and more parents are thinking it is time to pump up those bike tires and buy that new pair of walking shoes to get their children to school. AA Ireland estimates that the average cost of running a small family car with an engine size of 1251-1500cc is now €11,817 annually, and back to school costs are estimated by parents at €487 for primary school children and €620 for those attending secondary school.
Getting to school by walking, cycling, or public transport is a real healthy and cheaper alternative for most. Many parents will remember walking or cycling to school when they were children.
The latest research shows that over half of school children live no more than a 20 to 30 minute walk (2kms ) from school and almost 80 per cent live within five kilometres, again a reasonably short cycle for older school children. But less than 40 per cent of school children now walk or cycle.
We all want our children to arrive safely at school and that is the reason many parents give for taking their children to school in a car. But car school runs are making the roads more unsafe, which in turn makes even more parents think about taking a car on the school run. Can we break this vicious circle?
The journey to school is an ideal way for children to take part in regular physical activity, to interact with their peers, and to develop the road sense that children need as pedestrians and cyclists. Alternative modes of transport also improve children’s alertness, with 90 per cent of teachers surveyed across England and Wales saying that walking, cycling or using public transport increased pupils’ concentration levels in class.
Schools will lessen their overall impact on the environment through reducing emissions and pollution, while promoting sustainable transport modes (walking, cycling, car pooling or public transport ) will also improve pupils’ safety, health, and fitness.
Children and young people need at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity. It is clear from the SLÁN and HBSC studies that most Irish adults and children are not active enough to be healthy. Which is another reason the Walk/ Cycle To School initiatives are so important.
Obesity is a major public health concern in Ireland (Department of Health and Children, 2005 ). The less active you are, the more you are at risk of being overweight. The 2007 SLÁN report showed that 38 per cent of Irish people were overweight and another 23 per cent were obese. One in five Irish children and teenagers are overweight or obese (Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance, 2008 ).