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Sharp drop in number of children walking to school in Wales

Patrick McDonnell
01 February 2018

There has been a drop in the number of children walking to school, the Welsh Government has revealed. It found that in 2016/17 42% of primary school children walked to school, compared with 50% in 2013/14. 

The figures also show that while 78% of primary school children who live less than a kilometre from their school sometimes walk to school, just 26% of those who live 1–2 km away do.

Data on adult walking rates was also down over the period. The number of adults walking for at least five minutes at least once a week fell from 66% in 2013/14 to 61% in 2016/17. Just 28% said they walked for more than five minutes every day, with 19% several times a week and 14% once or twice a week. Some 7% also said that they walked once or twice a month, while 32% said they walked less often than that or never. 

There were extreme regional differences, with Cardiff as the local authority with the highest proportion of people walking as a means of transport most frequently (44%) and Flintshire the lowest with just 14%. 

People in urban areas were also more likely to walk more frequently, with 31% of people in urban areas walking every day compared with 22% in rural areas.

The statistics for cycling also showed falls. When asked how frequently they had used a bicycle as a means of transport in the previous three months, just 1% cycled every day, 2% several times a week and 2% once or twice a week, while 4% also said that they cycled once or twice a month and 91% said they cycled less often than that or never. 

The percentage of people who cycled more often than once a month, varied from 2% in Merthyr Tydfil to 16% in Cardiff. 

The charity Living Streets said action must be taken to reverse the decline in walking to help prevent the problems associated with inactivity including chronic health conditions, childhood obesity and lethal levels of air pollution.

Living Streets Cymru’s manager, Rachel Maycock said: “Wales passed its first Active Travel Act back in 2013. At the time, it seemed to be a fantastic signal that the Welsh Government had their priorities straight. But the lack of action since is evident in these disappointing figures.

“We need to instill healthy habits into our children so they go on to lead healthy lives. This isn’t something we can ignore – low physical activity levels among children and adults costs NHS Wales £650m a year.” 

Safer crossings, school street closures and 20mph limits will all help parents feel safer walking to school, said Maycock

“For those who live too far away to walk the whole way, parking a little further away and walking the rest (Park and Stride) ensures children still get active and school gates aren’t surrounded by harmful pollution all day.”

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