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As children go back to school, here's a short video that I think everyone should watch and a piece of writing that I think everyone should read, by a scientist who's a member of the London Child Obesity Task Force.

All of us, to greater or lesser extent, shape the world that children have to grow up in. And, without our realising it, our lifestyle and behaviour might be contributing to the problems that lead to so many children growing up obese, unfit, unhealthy and with poor mental health. Instead of blaming their parents, we should consider whether we are part of the problem.

It's relevant whether or not we have children, obese or not. Even if we live in a quiet and leafy suburban street and everyone in our family is svelte and fit.

Many, possibly most, of the huge number of cars that drive in a continuous stream through the less leafy and green parts of our city - poisoning the air, creating stress through noise and road danger, cutting communities in two - start their journeys in leafy suburbs or in the countryside, and their drivers are mostly blithely unaware of the problems they may be causing.

People like me who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s walked to school by ourselves from age 5. After school we played games in the street. Large bike sheds at schools were full every day (as were even bigger bike sheds at factories). We were able to travel around independently and build up our self confidence - and it gave our parents more freedom too. Let's restore some of what we've lost by rebalancing the rights of drivers and of those who can't or don't want to drive.

Our streets, our journeys

Rachel Toms, an expert on the built environment and health, and board member for the London’s Child Obesity Taskforce, spells out the benefits of improving streets for active journeys like walking and cycling.

Rachel's article is at

Some quotations from the article:

"It was fascinating to hear so many kids say they enjoy cycling because they like the wind on their face. None of them said they like exhaust fumes on their face."

"TfL’s analysis has found that ... around a quarter of current car trips could be walked, and two thirds could be cycled. They found unmet potential for cycling growth ... particularly in outer London."

"The bad news is that 61% of adult Brits feel it’s too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads."

"The good news is that YouGov research found that British adults are overwhelmingly in favour of their local streets being redesigned and changed to encourage walking and cycling, with 6.5 people in favour for every 1 person against — although those against tend to be extremely vocal."

"Active journeys like walking, scooting and cycling are in another league for air quality compared with journeys by any type of car."

"No-one likes traffic noise and with good reason: it can adversely affect your sleep, your stress level and your mental health."

"Not doing enough physical activity — which is the case for at least 40% of Londoners — puts people at much higher risk of many health problems, from fractures to depression and dementia, and from cancer to type 2 diabetes and heart disease."

"Data from TfL shows that in areas where intensive street improvements have been made, the average resident now walks, scoots or cycles for over 40 minutes a week more than before."

"For every £1 spent on walking and cycling, there are £13 of benefits returned to the economy, leading the Government to conclude that this type of investment offers 'high or very high value for money'."

"It’s not okay when a three-year-old and her dad need to cross the street and are shown a green man but have to weave their way between the bumpers and exhaust pipes of cars and vans that have stopped on the crossing — because of the design of the junction and signals, and because of what ‘feels right’ to motorists."

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