BLOG: Active Transport… what’s getting in the road?
8th Jun 16
by Dr Natasha Schranz and Charlotte Vincent, Active Healthy Kids Australia and the University of South Australia
Australia has seen a 42% decline in children’s active transport participation rates to and from school over the past 40 years according to the 2015 Progress Report Card on Active Transport in Australian Children and Young People. Even more concerning is that there is no indication as to whether this decline is slowing down. Active Transport (defined as physical activity undertaken as a means of transport) is quickly becoming a thing of the past with only half of Australia’s children and young people using active transport at least once per week to travel to and/or from school. So what’s getting in the road?
Background: Active Healthy Kids Australia and the Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Young People
Leading this investigation is Active Healthy Kids Australia (AHKA), a collaboration of physical activity researchers across Australia. Each year, AHKA 'grade' the nation on levels of physical activity in children and young people and grades and recommendations for improvements are reported in the biennial AHKA Physical Activity Report Card. Each intervening year, AHKA release a Progress Report Card focusing on one key physical activity indicator. In 2015, the Progress Report Card scored the nation a “C” for Active Transport, leading to many questions about why active transport has shown such a dramatic decline and more importantly, what can we do to turn this around and ultimately improve the grade.
If we could rewind 40 years and think about our family dynamic and lifestyle, the picture would be vastly different to the one we have today. Nowadays, we own more cars, both parents are in paid work, schools are further away and the streets aren’t as safe. Well, that is the common view, but how much truth really lies in these statements?
For 42-51% of parents the main reasons why they did not allow their child to ride to and/or from school was that they were concerned with stranger danger and the dangers posed by traffic and other road users, and yet only 11% of children have ever received formal cycle training.
71% of Australian parents report that the distance from home to their child’s school is 5 km or less, with a large portion of all parents (57%) reporting that the distance is actually 3 km or less.
With smaller family sizes, there are now fewer children within a family to walk or cycle together to and from school. The changes in family dynamics also makes the school drop-off and pickup much more complex, with many parents perceiving car travel to be more convenient as it allows them to incorporate school drop off/pick-up in the commute to and from work.
So what can we do to improve the grade?
We need to be looking for every opportunity to help kids be more active, and given active transport is inclusive for all, we need to encourage the children of today for whom active transport is the road less travelled, to engage in more than what is currently being done.
From a schools perspective, some areas for consideration are facilities within the school grounds to encourage walking and cycling (e.g. secure bike shelters and access to change rooms so can travel in all weather), engaging with the wider school community to initiate walking/riding school groups (that could be adult supervised), traffic-calming initiatives (e.g. crossing guards) and practices adopted by teachers and school leaders to encourage active transport use to and from school.
In November this year, AHKA will release the next full Report Card which will cover all 12 physical activity indicators (that focus on physical activity behaviours, the settings and sources of influence and strategies and investments that impact these behaviours and traits linked with physical activity participation). The 2014 and 2015 Report Cards are available to download at www.activehealthykidsaustralia.com.au.
This information will feed into the Global Matrix of grades allowing AHKA to benchmark Australia against the rest of the world. The Global Matrix is a collaboration of 39 countries who are working towards releasing Report Cards using a synchronised process. More information can be found at www.activehealthykids.org.
Leading this conversation is Dr Natasha Schranz, Active Healthy Kids Australia (AHKA) Co-Chair and Research Fellow from The University of South Australia and the lead investigator behind the AHKA Report Cards. Dr Schranz is passionate about the work she does for AHKA and feels it's important to highlight the facts and stats about Aussie kids doing less physical activity than they ever have before. She says “The results from the AHKA Physical Activity Report Cards can, and should start a national conversation about how we can improve the grade and get more kids to move more and sit less.”
Active Healthy Kids Australia
Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA)
School of Health Sciences University of South Australia | City East Campus (C7-42)
Ph: (08) 8302 1285 | Email: AHKA@activehealthykidsaustralia.com.au