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Some children are walking the road to fitness ... but most get a helping hand

The Daily Telegraph

Friday 12 December 2003

RACE Vanisi and her mother Catherine are becoming something of a rarity in today's society - they walk to school.

It's only 10 minutes away and even Mrs Vanisi admits if she lived further away she'd go with the majority and take Race to school by car.

“It's good we walk because it's the only exercise we do together. A lot of kids don't seem to get any exercise at all,” Mrs Vanisi told The Daily Telegraph.

New research reveals that two out of three children now travel to school by car, leading to poor health.

The report by the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils and the Wentworth and Western Sydney Area Health Services blames the trend on poor urban design, parental fears for their children's safety and lack of access to public transport.

Report authors Colin Berryman, Tony Capon and Dr Krishna Hort believe Australia's growing dependence on the car has reduced the amount of time we spend on physical activity.
Other experts have pointed to parents' fear of “stranger danger” which prevents them from allowing children to walk or ride their bikes to school.

The director of the NSW Centre for Overweight and Obesity, Dr Michael Booth, said parents were driving their kids to and from school and leisure activities, depriving them of the chance to exercise.

About 23 per cent of children and teenagers are overweight, with about 6 per cent obese, according to a Medical Journal of Australia report this year.

“We are one of the highest car users. We drive our kids around more than we ever have, to and from school and all over the place,” Dr Booth said.

“We see our streets are really dangerous for kids.”

Parents picking up their children from Parramatta Public School said they were reluctant to allow their children to walk or ride to school on their own.

Ronak Rashid drives to the school each day, picking up her son Ivan, 11, daughter Barham, 8, and their friend Georgina Lupang, 8.

“We live a 20-minute walk away but I don't like to let them walk to school, I worry too much about them,” she said.

“It's just not safe for them to walk, particularly somewhere like Parramatta where there is a lot of traffic.

“I try and make sure my kids get plenty of other exercise to make up for it.”
Dr Booth said academic pressure on young children meant many spent their free time studying or attending coaching clinics, rather than playing sport.

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