The Heart Foundation NSW used National Walk to School Day to call on the state government to improve walking and cycling infrastructure around schools.
The charity wants the government to fully fund five-year Active Travel to School Programs.
Heart Foundation Illawarra and Shoalhaven regional health promotion coordinator Andy Mark was disappointed but not shocked that more than half of NSW primary school children were now travelling to school by car.
He said it was critical to start protecting the health of the next generation now, with more than 20 per cent of NSW school children currently overweight and only one in four getting sufficient physical activity each day.
“Reducing childhood obesity by five per cent over 10 years is one of the Premier’s priorities – however to achieve this goal we need to consider ways to make physical activity normal and an easy regular part of our children’s days,” Mr Mark said.
“Parents will continue to drive their children to school if local footpaths and roads are not safe for walking, cycling or scooting so we need to invest now to make sure parents can feel assured that route to school is safe.”
Many Illawarra students, including Hayes Park Public School and Dapto High School took part in National Walk Safely to School Day on Friday.
Now in its 19th year, the annual event encourages students to walk and commute safely to school.
Mr Mark said Dapto HS students were encouraged and supported in walking, riding a bike, scooter or skateboard to school.
Importantly a network of shared pathways makes it safe and easy for students to actively travel to school.
He said this has resulted in many students taking the opportunity to get to school under their own steam, catching up with friends along the way.
“When we make it easy and safe to walk or ride to school, students will do so. Not only does it set them up for a great day at school, but also a healthy heart and life.”