These boots were made for walking… active transport for healthy kids (pt 1)
We all know our kids are less active now than ever before. But is there a real problem? And for Wellington kids, is their everyday environment an ally or an enemy? In part one of a series, Laura Cleary explores how well Wellington is doing, and how you and the kids in your life can get moving.
New Zealanders’ health is changing. Kiwis are part of a global trend called the “epidemiological transition”. In layperson language that means: these days, we’re less likely to get infectious diseases like tuberculosis or measles, but much more likely to have chronic health problems. We’re living longer – but with more disability caused by chronic illnesses, including fatal conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
This is having a big impact on our kids. For instance, 11% of New Zealand children are obese – one of the highest rates in the world.
There are a bunch of reasons for the increase in chronic diseases, but we know you can reduce the risk of chronic illness – by getting enough exercise. For children aged 5-17 years, this is 60 minutes per day.
The Ministry of Health found just 67% of Kiwis aged 5-24 get this much, so there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Enter “active transport” – getting around by walking, biking, skating, or scooting – any way that’s powered by your body. Active transport is great for health, and we have some ideas about what can make kids more likely to use it.
Active parents, neighbourhoods, and communities help; as does a well-designed urban environment which makes it safe, easy, and pleasant to get out and about. Kids, and their parents, need to feel safe from traffic and crime. And it helps if school is nearby.
How’s Wellington doing?
Wellington is making slow improvements in children’s use of active transport. That’s impressive, given trends from around the world. The 2015 State of Walking Report: Wellington Region found that 26-29% of trips to school by 5-17 year olds were by bicycle or foot in 2005-9, increasing to 36% in 2010-14. This is in contrast to the global trend: a steady decline in children’s use of active transport over time.
Wellington City Council has a Walking Policy to make Wellington a “safe and convenient walkable city”.
The policy guides urban planning that encourages walking instead of driving for short trips – including to school. And it provides targets and measures for how many people walk, and how often. In later posts, I’ll look at those data and what they tell us.
The Greater Wellington Regional Council has a bunch of active transport initiatives, here. They include training sessions to help kids bike to school safely, and toolkits for parents and schools.
It’s unlikely that council initiatives are solely responsible for Wellington’s increasing use of active transport, but they’re probably part of the reason.
Wellington is in a period of growth and change. Urban planning and city design for our new residential areas will be important to ensure this good progress continues.
I’ll write more on the relationship between urban design and physical activity in later posts. I’ll also explore whether Wellington’s densification, intensification, and urban growth are supporting kids (and adults) to live healthy, active lives.
What can you do right now?
- Turn up & eyeball our leaders.
Wellington City Council’s Safe and Sustainable Transport Forum meets regularly to discuss sustainable transport issues.
Porirua City: find agendas of the City Delivery and City Direction committees.
Lower Hutt City: look at the City Development, Traffic and District Plan committees.
Upper Hutt City: the City Services Committee does the lot.
- Take a walk with a child. Use this checklist to figure out how pleasant it is to walk in your neighbourhood or to school. If there are things you think they can improve, you can let the Council know. (Contact details on the checklist).
- Get ideas – see these resources for ideas on how to get kids more active.
- Influence longer term. Councils have 3-year workplans (triennium plans). For example, the Wellington Council Mayor and Councillors’ programme 2016–19 draft 3-year workplan (Triennium Plan). Goal 4 (page 17) includes initiatives to promote active transport. You can give feedback at http://www.wellington.govt.nz/haveyoursay
- Check out the Walk or Wheel (WOW) incentives from Greater Wellington Regional Council. This might be a great initiative for your local school.