Air pollution blamed for children not walking to school

Written by Gemma Fraser on 20 May 2019 in News

Research reveals parents are worried about levels of air pollution around schools

Image credit: Rae Allen

Parents are put off walking their children to school because of air pollution, according to new research.

The survey by Living Streets, a charity which encourages walking for everyday local journeys, shows that two thirds (65 per cent) of UK parents of children aged between four and 11 are concerned about the effect of air pollution on their child’s health – a 17 per cent increase on last year’s data.

And two fifths (40 per cent) are specifically concerned about the levels of air pollution around their child’s school or on the school run, despite driving to school making air quality worse and exposing children to even more pollution inside the car.

In 2018, Living Streets called for cars to be banned from school gates at pick up and drop off times to allow children to walk the last part of the journey to school, free from traffic.

Professor Stephen Holgate CBE, from University of Southampton, said: “Children are among the most vulnerable members of society to suffer the adverse health effects of air pollution, especially since their lungs are still developing and growing.

“Exposure to pollution can be far higher sitting in the back of a car or in a bus than outside.

“Exercise and activity by children, as well as socialising among friends, is greatly improved by active travel with many added benefits to the health and well-being of our next generation.”

Edinburgh City Council’s School Streets scheme has seen the streets immediately outside several primary schools closed to motorised vehicles at peak times.

Garnetbank Primary School in Glasgow will be following in Edinburgh’s footsteps in June.

Linda Reed, headteacher at Garnetbank Primary, said: “Our school is next to a main motorway, an area recognised as having high levels of air pollution.

“By making it possible for our pupils to walk to school, we can improve the environment and help them lead healthy lives.

“A climate emergency has been declared; we are looking at the whole school community to do something and push for positive change to reduce global warming.

“We encourage our children to spend time with nature, we know it is good for their bodies and their minds – and they enjoy it.”

Half a million children across the UK will take part in Walk to School Week 2-19, taking place from May 20 to 24.

Jenni Wiggle, senior director, Living Streets, said: “This research shows that we’re all becoming more aware of the dangers of air pollution on our health.

“What’s concerning is that parents are put off doing the one thing which could drastically improve the air quality around their child’s school.

“Walking to school is a positive action parents can take to help clean up our air. We know this isn’t an easy option for all parents which is why we’re launching our School Streets toolkit to help make the walk to school an easier choice for everyone.”

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