In August 2004, the BMJ published research from the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth which found no difference in weekly activity levels between those who were driven to school and those who walked or cycled.
The study monitored 154 boys and 121 girls in their first year at 53 urban primary schools.
Terry Wilkin, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the Peninsula Medical School, claimed that although those who walked or cycled to school recorded more activity in the process, their total weekly activity was identical to children driven to and from school. Somehow, car-borne children made up for their lack of exercise in the morning and afternoon by being more active during the school day.
Wilkin used these findings to pour scorn on those who say the "school run" – provably bad for rush-hour traffic congestion – was bad for childen’s health:
"Whether children walk to and from primary school makes no difference to their total activity. This does not justify the adverse publicity given to the school run, nor the government’s perception of the school run’s impact."
However, a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows the opposite to be true. Children who walk or cycle to school are more active throughout the day than those who travel to school by car, claim researchers, one from Bristol, four from Denmark.
The study followed 332 Danish primary school children who wore accelerometers to record their daily activity levels. The researchers compared the activity levels of walkers and cyclists with children who travelled to school by car or bus. Boys who walked or cycled to school were significantly more active than those who travelled by motorised means. Strangely, girls who cycled had weekly activity levels similar to car passengers.
Ashley Cooper of the Department of Exercise and Health Sciences, University of Bristol and Niels Wedderkopp MD of the Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense said their study showed the need for more safe routes for cycling and walking to school.