Better routes home from school can tackle childhood obesity

A new report has found that 80 per cent of the public would put an end to the school children discounts offered by unhealthy fast food outlets near schools.

Routing Out Childhood Obesity, published by the Royal Society for Public Health, found that despite wider efforts to support kids’ healthy eating in school and at home, the world that school-aged children experience between the school gates and the front door can still have a disproportionate effect on diet and lifestyle.   

With nine children in every Year 6 class overweight or obese, the report identifies four key aspects of the street environment that should be disrupted to give children a healthier route home from school. This includes: addressing the junk food offer around schools; building better places to go; transforming active travel; and limiting the reach of junk food adverts.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, said: “When the bells ring at the end of the day, a typical school child finds themselves in a situation they would otherwise rarely experience: with time to spare, friends to follow, change in their pocket, no adult direction, and a junk food offer within minutes on foot. It’s small wonder that, in this environment, junk food outlets have become one of the most popular after-school destinations. Our work with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity has shown that if we are to give young people in the UK the options they deserve, and not settle for the cheap and unhealthy offer they are currently restricted to, we need a radical revamp of the street environment surrounding our schools.

“To make this happen, we need to be ambitious and keep in mind the whole picture. As well as keeping unhealthy food outlets away from our school gates, we need to recognise and take action on the influence of ever-present junk food advertising bombarding the public. As well as giving children safe and social areas to spend time after school that aren’t fast food shops, we need to invest in cycling and walking routes to make an active lifestyle the norm and not a chore.”

The report is based on research done in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, which included mapping the street environments of Lambeth and Southwark to gauge their impact on childhood obesity, and a series of interviews and focus groups with school children from the boroughs.