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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 00:55 GMT 01:55 UK
Child couch potato image 'unfair'
Children walking
Children 'still walk regularly', researchers say
Children are not the couch potatoes they are often depicted as, researchers have shown.

The University of Lancaster study found 10 and 11-year-olds still make over 60% of their journeys on foot.

The finding contradicts the commonly-held belief that children are now usually ferried around in cars, unlike previous generations.

The study is published in a report for the Economic and Social Research Council.

Children don't necessarily get a lot less exercise than children did in the past
Professor Colin Pooley, University of Lancaster
The researchers asked over 150 people, ranging from children aged 10 to people in their sixties, to fill out detailed questionnaires and undergo in-depth interviews about how they travelled.

Data on over 895,000 individual trips was collected.

People born between 1932 and 1941 did walk more than their modern-day counterparts - with around 88% of journeys made on foot versus 64% today.

But the researchers say the difference was not as great as might have been thought, given the increase in affluence and car ownership and the perception that children now walk less.

There has been a decline in the proportion of 10 or 11-year-olds allowed to travel around unaccompanied, but researchers found that even today over 50% of trips are taken without an adult.

By the age of 17 or 18, many still walk or use buses regularly - three quarters of journeys into the town centre are made on foot or by bus.

'Marginalised'

Colin Pooley, professor of social and historical geography at the University of Lancaster, who carried out the study, told BBC News Online: "Initially, we had thought that, because of the way mobility has changed over the last 60 years, we would have see a huge difference.

Children need to be physically active for at least one hour every day
Dr Jeff French, Health Development Agency
"But we didn't. The majority of journeys are over short distances, and usually made on foot or by public transport.

"This study has shown that children don't necessarily get a lot less exercise than children did in the past."

"This shows that many everyday journeys are undertaken on foot, but this is a form of travel which has been marginalised in much transport policy."

He said transport surveys usually focused on journeys of over a mile, and so did not collect data on these more common, shorter distances.

Less freedom

Professor Pooley said the study had focused on children in urban areas, and the situation may be different for children who lived in more rural surroundings.

The research also looked at children's play and found while modern children play as much as their grandparents' generation, they are given much less freedom.

Children who were aged 10 or 11 when interviewed said they were nervous of being abducted or run over.

But respondents who were the same age in the 1940s said they had swum in dirty canals and played in air raid shelters and did not tell their parents about encounters with "flashers."

Professor Pooley added: "This reflects the much greater publicity given by both national and local media to a small number of specific events such as child abductions and related dangers."

Dr Jeff French, of the Health Development Agency, said: "The research is encouraging but the fact still remains that the health of future generations is at stake due to obesity and the lack of physical inactivity."

He added: "It's great that kids are into walking. Children need to be physically active for at least one hour every day.

"It should also be made fun - walking or cycling to school and pastimes like dancing and playing games are just some of the ways to raise activity levels and help improve children's health and well-being.

"At the end of the day, the emphasis must be on fun as well as physical activity."




SEE ALSO:
'Children ignorant of exercise'
18 Jan 04  |  Health
'Couch potato' toddlers warning
16 Jan 04  |  Health
Why children need exercise
22 Apr 02  |  Health


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