Taking the children to school: childhood obesity and women’s work

Here’s a prime example of how resources are squandered when policy experts think that they can look after children better than their parents – while ignoring the real problems parents face.

The UK Government is spending £1.2 billion on an anti-obesity plan to encourage children to walk and cycle to school. In April 2017 it set a target: increase the proportion of five to 10-year-olds walking to school to 55 per cent by 2025.

The scheme appears to have failed miserably in its first year, as the proportion of children getting to and from school under their own steam’ declined from 46 per cent in 2017 to 44 per cent, ‘while those travelling by car or bus went up by one point’; the rate for those walking to school dropped from 51 per cent to 49 per cent, while the percentage of children taken to primary school by car increased from 41 per cent to 44 per cent (‘Fewer children walk to school despite £1.2 billion campaign’, Telegraph, August 4, 2018).

Chief executive of the Association for Physical Education Sue Wilkinson told the Times Higher Education magazine that ‘schools should give all pupils skipping ropes and balls to take home to encourage children to keep fit’, and that ‘head teachers could also buy second-hand bikes and scooters to lend to children.’ Even if schools had the money to do so, does she really think that children are obese because they have no bikes or scooters to ride, and no balls or skipping ropes to play with?

At the same time, both the Government and children’s ‘experts’ ignore the elephant in the room – the fact that in recent years more and more mothers have had to take paid employment in order to have a family at all.

The effects can be seen in the fact that in 2000, 56 per cent of children walked to school, but between 2012 and 2015 the figure dipped below 50 per cent, although in 2016 it recovered slightly to 51 per cent only to decline even further in 2017; moreover, ‘the proportion of children aged five to 16 using a bike to get to school has remained stuck at 2 per cent for the last four years.’

The Government does not tell us whether the children who go to school by car are the obese ones, but one real factor in childhood obesity, the ubiquitous iPad, is increasingly necessary to keep children entertained while being dropped off at school by mother on her way to work.

AA president Edmund King came closest to mentioning the real problem in observing: ‘“Fewer cars on the road at peak times is good for all but the school run is a tough nut to crack.”’

Still, one wonders whether the Government will continue to squander millions on this doomed-to-fail project. As a virtue-signalling exercise telling everyone that they have children’s interests at heart -- unlike parents, who are, by implication, failing miserably in their duty of care -- it is an expensive way of lecturing taxpayers at their own expense. 

At the same time, it conveniently ignores the outcomes of the Government’s drive to get mothers into work, which is designed to reinforce their own 'health' propaganda (by signalling that obesity is to blame for most ill health) while pleasing the population control lobby (by ensuring that women have fewer children by making them work as an ‘equality’ measure) and the Green lobby (by signalling their wish for less pollution).

The only ones not benefiting from this approach are the taxpayers who are fundingthis £1.2 billion turkey: all those stuck in traffic jams -- some of them, presumably, working parents -- mothers who wish to spend more time with their own families, and children stuck on iPads; but also the ‘lucky’ ones, scootering to school through other people’s noxious fumes because the Government says it is good for their health.

Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002).


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