Time-poor parents are creating a “backseat generation” of children who don’t walk to school even when they live close by.
New Australian Catholic University research, published in the Journal of Transport & Health, found 60 per cent of primary schoolchildren don’t walk or cycle to school, with most parents – even those living less than 750 metres from their school – dropping their kids off by car.
Trip-chaining, a practice where time-pressed parents combine the school run with the commute to work or other errands, means it is often easier for parents to drive a child to school.
Experts warn this trend could lead to long-term damage to their future health.
As thousands of schoolchildren return to classrooms around Australia, active travel expert Alison Carver has urged parents and schools to do everything they can to get kids moving.
Dr Carver, from ACU’s Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, said a survey of 700 Victorian households found convenience played a key role in parents stopping their children from making their own way to school.
“We have created a backseat generation,” Dr Carver said. “It is quite shocking how many within 750 metres of the school gates are still being driven but we know there are several factors behind this including parents fitting pick-ups and drop-offs into their busy schedules, and the walkability of their neighbourhood.”
Dr Carver was the lead author on the report, which included a team of researchers from RMIT and the University of Melbourne, that analysed travel patterns of primary school families who lived within 2km of their school.
“We need households to stop and think about how their children’s journeys are influenced by other household members,” she said. “Dropping children off at school by car on the parent’s way to work may be convenient but children miss out on mental and physical health benefits.”
Physical inactivity has been linked to an increased risk of lower bone density and chronic diseases such as cancer, mental health and cardiovascular disease later in life.
“We are doing more harm than good by driving our children instead of supporting them to walk, cycle or scoot all or part-way to school,” she said. “Children who do not walk or cycle to school do not tend to walk or cycle much to other destinations.”
She has called for safe drop-off and pick-up zones to be created within 800 metres of primary schools to give children access to an extra 20 minutes of physical activity each day.
“Improving the physical environments around schools to make them accessible by well-connected footpaths and bike trails as well as reducing traffic risks and hazards, are crucial steps in getting more children to make that daily walk to school,” Dr Carver said.
Research shows that only one in five children meet the recommended level of 60 minutes of physical activity every day.