Data on active travel released by the Welsh Government today (30 January) reveals a severe drop in walking rates for people in Wales, including children on the school run.

Living Streets Cymru, the charity for everyday walking is demanding action be taken to reverse the decline in walking to help prevent the problems associated with inactivity including chronic health conditions, childhood obesity and lethal levels of air pollution.

The Welsh Government statistics reveal that 42 per cent of primary school children walk to school, down from 50 per cent in 2013-14.

Swap your school run for a school walk image

78 per cent of primary school children who live less than a kilometre from their school sometimes walk to school, but just 26 per cent of those who live 1–2 km away do; and children living in more sparsely populated rural areas are more likely to use a car to get to school than those who lived in urban areas.

Rachel Maycock, Manager, Living Streets Cymru said:

”Wales passed its first Active Travel Act back in 2013. At the time, it seemed to be a fantastic signal that the Welsh Government had their priorities straight. But the lack of action since is evident in these disappointing figures.

“We need to instil healthy habits into our children so they go on to lead healthy lives. This isn’t something we can ignore – low physical activity levels among children and adults costs NHS Wales £650 million a year.  

“The reduction in the number of children walking to school seems to be largely the result of a fall in the number of those walking to school on their own or with friends. Safer crossings, school street closures and 20mph limits are all ways to help parents feel safer walking to school. 

Our walk to school scheme sees walking rates increase on average by 23 per cent, with a corresponding drop in car use. The Welsh Government should be looking at supporting successful behaviour change schemes like these, as well as in creating safer walking routes. Every school in Wales should be an active travel school and at the moment this just isn’t the case.

Rachel Maycock, Manager, Living Streets Cymru

For those who live too far away to walk the whole way, parking a little further away and walking the rest (Park and Stride) ensures children still get active and school gates aren’t surrounded by harmful pollution all day.

When it came to the data on adult walking rates, things weren’t much better. The number of adults walking for at least five minutes at least once a week dropped from 66 per cent in 2013-14 to 61 per cent.

There were extreme regional differences with Cardiff as the local authority with the highest proportion of people walking as a means of transport most frequently (44%) and Flintshire the lowest with just 14 per cent. People in urban areas were also more likely to walk more frequently, with 31 per cent of people in urban areas walking every day compared with 22 per cent in rural areas.

Living Streets Cymru wants to see adequate funding allocated to the Active Travel Act 2013, transparency in progress and visibility of leadership as well as a clear plan of action to reverse this decline in walking rates, in particular for the walk to school.