Almost half of parents in the West Midlands see a noticeable improvement in their children’s happiness after they walk to school, new research has found. National charity Living Streets conducted research with parents of primary school children and found that half of those living in the West Midlands see an improvement in their child’s mood and behaviour  after they’ve done physical activity.

Yet, just 21 per cent of boys and 16 per cent of girls get the recommended daily amount of physical exercise* and a third of children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. Schoolchildren in the UK are some of the unhealthiest and unhappiest in the world and walking is one of the easiest and most accessible ways of maintaining a healthy weight and reducing stress levels.   

Walking to school has been shown to improve children’s concentration, help them feel more alert and achieve better grades than those who are driven – now parents are highlighting that it can improve mood too. Almost half said that they saw an improvement in their child’s happiness after the walk to school.

As Living Streets’ Walk to School Week (16 – 20 May) gets underway, Jenny Wiles, Regional Director (North & Midlands) says: “Not only are we experiencing a child obesity crisis, we’re also facing a rise in mental health and wellbeing problems. We know that keeping active is a major part of the solution.

“We must prioritise ways of encouraging physical activity if we want today’s children to become healthy adults. The walk to school is a free, easy and accessible way for parents and their children to achieve this. Sadly, just 46 per cent of primary school children walk to school compared to 70 per cent of their parents’ generation. We must reverse this decline.”

Living Streets’ research shows that parents in the West Midlands don’t just think the walk to school benefits their children. Almost 44 per cent said they feel healthier for walking their kids to school and 36 per cent said they feel happier after walking in. Just over a third also said it helps them to feel less stressed and 66 per cent said that it’s a great time to spend with their children.

Of the parents surveyed whose children don’t walk to school, 55 per cent said that they would like them to walk to school. However, congestion and unsafe driving outside the school gates overwhelmingly deter parents. A huge 60 per cent in the West Midlands said that vehicles driving too quickly was their greatest worry when it came to the school run and a third cited overcrowding (33 per cent) and unsafe parking (37 per cent). Aggression was also a factor with 28 per cent experiencing it, either from other parents or local residents.

Wiles continues: “Something needs to change so that more children and parents feel safe walking to school. This is one sure way of increasing the amount of exercise youngsters are getting and is vitally important if we want to improve their health, and cut congestion and pollution.”

Living Streets is the UK charity for everyday walking. Last year 400,000 children took part in Walk to School Week.

Living Streets wants to see the government fulfil a previous commitment to getting 55 per cent of primary school children walking to school by 2025.

Walk to School Week also plays host to ‘Happy Shoesday’ on Tuesday 17 May. Children and staff at schools around the country will be wearing the shoes which make them the happiest, each donating £1 to Living Streets. The money raised will go to the charity’s work with schools and local communities, and their campaign work to make UK streets safer for everyone.