Living Streets "Fear of air pollution preventing a generation walking to school" Image iStock

Half a million children taking to the streets around the UK as part of Walk to School Week (20-24 May)

Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, has released research which shows that 65% of UK parents of 4-11 year olds are concerned about the effect of air pollution on their child’s health. This is a 17 per cent increase on 2018 data.

It also found that 40% were specifically concerned about the levels of air pollution around their child’s school or on the school run.

30% of parents have been put off walking their child to school because of poor air quality. This is despite driving children to school making air quality worse and exposing children to even more pollution inside the car.

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.”

Ella Kissi-Debrah died as a result of respiratory failure in February 2013. University of Southampton asthma and air pollution expert, Professor Stephen Holgate CBE, authored the report. The report concluded there was a “striking association” between Ella’s emergency hospital admissions and spikes in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM10s, the most noxious pollutants. He 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.”

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.

Since then, more schools and local authorities have successfully taken action to reduce the number of vehicles around the school gates. The charity wants to see this taken nationwide.

To help get more children to walk to school, the charity will be launching ‘School Streets‘, a toolkit to help parents who want to stop cars driving and parking dangerously around their child’s school and contributing to toxic levels of air pollution.

Walk to School Week 2019

Half a million children across the UK will take part in Walk to School Week 2019, with some schools being supported to take part by National Walking Month sponsor, Phoenix Group.

Additional activities including temporary car-free zones and student-led anti-idling events. Transport Minister Jesse Norman will join a walk in London (Tuesday 21 May).

To find out more, visit livingstreets.org.uk/wtsw

Key dates in National Walking Month

20 – 24 May: Walk to School Week – thousands of children across the UK celebrate the benefits walking brings.

21 May: Happy Shoesday – pupils, parents and teachers across the UK raise money for Living Streets walking projects, by wearing their happy shoes and donating £1.