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How Canadian parents are driving their kids to unhealthiness

Want to see the worst traffic in any city in Canada? You won’t find it headed downtown in the morning, or crowding on to popular transit routes in the afternoon.

Instead, just head down to your local school, where a squadron of SUVs is off-loading an army of backpack-clad children every morning as part of a chaotic battle that pits time-crunched parents against 10-year-old crossing guards.

For schools that have drop-off loops in front, the line of waiting vehicles can sometimes stretch a couple of blocks.

Of course it would be much quicker to just hop out of the car and walk, but — irony alert! — parents are concerned about safety, given the amount of traffic near the school.

Active Health Kids Canada (AHKC) addressed this issue last week in its annual report card on physical activity for children, and found that just 28 per cent of our nation’s kids walk or ride their bikes to school on a regular basis.

Now, I don’t want to get into one of those When I Was Young stories, but ... when I was young I never got driven to school.

From about age six, my friends and I would walk or ride by ourselves down a wooded trail that was popular with skunks and foxes. Oh, and there was usually a giant bear trap at the halfway point.

Granted, I grew up in a small town where parents didn’t worry about imaginary criminals and weirdos on the prowl. On the other hand, actual bears were on the prowl!

Of course modern parents live in fear of criminals, weirdos, bears, snow, rain, pollen and dozens of other things, and think driving their kids everywhere will ensure their safety. But what about their long-term health?

The AHKC survey also found that less than seven per cent of school-age children are getting the minimum amount of daily exercise suggested by the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.

Getting more kids walking or riding to school would go a long way toward fixing that problem.

There are a few things that government can do to help. Cities can ensure all neighbourhoods have proper bike and pedestrian infrastructure and provinces can build new schools where they’re needed, even if that means closing down old ones in areas where the population has changed.

But mostly this is on the parents.

Encourage your kids to walk or ride to school, and get together with other families to form a walking bus or group ride if you’re worried about safety. Even if the distance to your child’s school requires driving, then avoid the chaos out front by parking a few blocks away and walking the final leg.

Do it for your child’s physical health, and for your mental health as well.

After all, by teaching kids a “walk or bike first” approach when they’re young, you might save yourself from being driven mad by requests to borrow the car or get chauffeured around when they get older.

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