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Hampshire's 'School Travel Plans' logo Health and physical activity

Physical activity
Obesity and long term health
Asthma and air pollution
Increasing children's dependence
Health and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs)
Healthy Schools

Improved health and increased physical activity are two of the benefits of encouraging students and staff (and their parents/guardians) to walk and cycle to and from school.

 Physical activity

Research shows that 20% of boys and girls between the ages of 2 and 15, do less than 30 minutes activity a day. 1

Physical activity is essential for childhood growth and development. Key benefits include:

  • Maintenance of energy levels

  • An increase in psychological well-being and encouragement of social interaction 1

  • Promotes healthy bones in young people and prevents osteoporosis (the loss of bone mineral density) later in life

Cartoon image of a child cycling to school.Children who walk and cycle to and from school may be more likely to continue this behaviour in later life, resulting in longer-term benefits in health. By encouraging walking and cycling, schools will be helping their students to be more active and therefore healthier. (The walking and cycling information sheets provide further guidance).


Physical activity increases psychological well-being and encourages social interaction1. Being physically active can help children to develop a strong sense of identity, make creative use of their minds and develop the capacity to take responsibility for themselves.  

Obesity and long term health

There has been a lot in the news about the rising levels of childhood obesity. In a report from the Chief Medical Officer[1] it was stated that:

  • “In less than 10 years, incidence of obesity has doubled among boys and increased by 60% in girls.”

  • “Obesity levels in England are high and rising. In 2002, 30.3% of boys and 30.7% of girls aged 2-15 were overweight, and 16% of boys and 15.9% of girls aged 2-15 were obese.” 

There are many impacts of obesity on health: Type 2 diabetes has been identified in obese adolescents (Type 2 diabetes is usually referred to as adult-onset diabetes) 1.

In the long term, obesity can double the risk of coronary heart disease, having a stroke and increases the risk of some cancers. Obesity can also have a negative psychological impact on children who may suffer from low self-esteem (amongst other problems).

Asthma and air pollution

The Department of Health states that “Air pollution can have short-term and long-term effects on health… air pollution should be regarded as one of a number of factors that may affect people with breathing disorders..” (such as asthma).

Did you know that:

  • The national figures for asthma among children in the UK is one in eight (which is the highest in Europe)2

  • Children in cars in slow moving traffic are exposed to air pollution levels two to three times higher than those of children outside3

The advice from the Department of Health is that:

People can do their bit by changing their behaviour. If we all used the car less frequently or shared the use of vehicles, especially those for short, local trips such as the school run, and we did more walking and cycling instead this would bring us other health benefits over time.” 4

Increasing children’s independence

The school journey is an opportunity for children to gain self confidence and independence. Travelling by car can reduce opportunities for them to learn important life skills such as how to cross a road and so limit a child’s ability to act independently. Walking and cycling can also help children to learn about their local environment, develop road sense, assess risk and become more self-reliant.

Health and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs)

The School Travel Planning Team works with Hampshire’s Primary Care Trusts (PCTs)  to promote School Travel Plans and share information. If you would like information on your local PCT please contact the School Travel Planning Team

The DfES identified five key objectives in its guidance Healthy living blueprint for schools.5 School Travel Plans will assist schools to make progress towards the following objectives:

  • To promote a school ethos and environment which encourages a healthy lifestyle
  • To use the full capacity and flexibility of the curriculum to achieve a healthy lifestyle, and
  • To promote an understanding of the full range of issues and behaviours which impact upon lifelong health.

For further information please see the Health section of the Website Links page.

1  ‘At least five a week: Evidence on the impact of physical activity and its relationship to health. A report by the Chief Medical Officer’, April 2004.
2 National Asthma Campaign Asthma Audit 2002 “Starting as we mean to go on”
3 Institute for European Environmental Policy / Environmental Transport Association, 1997, “Road user exposure to air pollution: Literature review”
4 DH COMEAP advice: The health effects of air pollutants July 2000
5 DfES Healthy living blueprint for schools, September 2004