Banning parents from driving their children to schools in a bid to reduce childhood obesity may be “a step too far”, Britain’s leading public health expert has been warned.
Professor John Ashton, who has taken over as president of the Faculty of Public Health, said that if parents must drive their children to school they should have to drop them off a few hundred yards away so children get a small amount of exercise.
In an interview with The Times, Prof Ashton said fears of a “nanny state” should not stand in the way of strong government action to improve health.
But Justine Roberts, chief executive of Mumsnet, said there would be a “mixed reaction” from parents struggling to find a practical way to manage the proposal.
And sustainable transport charity Sustrans said addressing traffic speed and volume, rather than banning the school run, was “critical” in allowing more children to walk or cycle to school.
Prof Ashton told the Times: “We’re used to the idea that our children are not going to be as well off as we have been. But I don’t think anybody has really expressed yet that they may not be as healthy either.
“One of the things we really should be doing is strictly prohibiting cars stopping outside school to drop kids off but have drop-off points, if at all, a few hundred yards away so at least the children get to walk a quarter of a mile each day from the dropping-off point … it would make a difference.”
He also praised efforts by councils to ban fast food outlets near schools.
The latest figures suggest one in three children is overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.
Prof Ashton, who is director of public health in Cumbria, added: “We have had 100 years of progress in statistics of longevity and health and wellbeing, and there is evidence now that things are stalling.
“The golden generation, now in their 90s, have really benefited from traditional lifestyles - walking to school and work, not going everywhere in the car, not having junk food - but that has been coupled with the benefits of modern medicine.
“What we’ve now got is generations coming through where there has been a deterioration of lifestyles.”
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