Dr Julia Reid MEP, who represents the South West Counties & Gibraltar, has recently come out in support of a number of measures, put forward by Public Health England (PHE), to significantly reduce air pollution.
In their recent report, aptly titled ‘Review of interventions to improve outdoor air quality and public health’, PHE recommends that local authorities take a particularly focused approach on reducing the impact of air pollution on children. Some of the recommendations put forward include working with children and their parents to implement no-idling zones outside schools and making it easy for children to walk or cycle to school by introducing more cycle and footpaths. Thereby, reducing air pollution in the vicinity of schools and reducing children’s exposure accordingly.
PHE describe air pollution as the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK and they have estimated that around 28,000 to 36,000 deaths a year in the UK could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution. They also claim that there is strong evidence that air pollution causes the development of coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer, in addition to exacerbating asthma.
Adding to the conversation, Dr Julia Reid MEP said: “Unfortunately, despite the growing concern over both air pollution and childhood obesity, fewer children are walking to school now than they were ten years ago.
“The most up to date figures published by the Department for Transport (last updated July 2018) shows that, in 2017, just 47% of children walked or cycled to school – down from 50% just ten years earlier. And worse still, this figure was closer to 70% in the 1970s.
“Now you compare that a country like Japan, where 98% of Japanese children either walk or cycle to school, and you’ll quickly realise that we have a lot of room for improvement.
“In fact, if we took a leaf out of Japan’s book, it wouldn’t just help reduce air pollution, but it would also help British children to meet the recommendations to get 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, just by walking to school and back.”
Broken down into separate statistics for both primary and secondary school-age children; the percentage of secondary school age children who either walked or cycled to school fell dramatically – from 44% in 2007 to just 39% in 2017, whilst the number of primary school age children who either walked or cycled remained at roughly 53% across the same 10-year period.