Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Letter to Parachute (a Canadian safety organisation)

I've previously noticed that Safe Kids Canada did not in any way encourage parents to get their kids walking and riding their bikes.  The advice was basically: "While biking is a healthy activity, vast numbers of kids who cycle get all smashed up.  It isn't safe."  There was even a direct statement that children under the age of 10 should not ride on roads at all.
Safe Kids Canada is now part of Parachute, and I decided to write to them (see letter below) asking them to correct this problem with the information they're providing.  Hopefully we'll see some changes ...
Hi Folks,
I saw today a useful web site by a group called "Active Healthy Kids Canada" (AHKC), whose mission is (as the name suggests) to encourage healthy physical activity in kids.  Unfortunately, in their 2013 "report card", they could only give Canada a D-.  I am writing to alert you to the fact that, unwittingly, Parachute might be contributing to this sorry situation.

According to AHKC, a big part of the inactivity problem is that our kids are increasingly being driven to destinations, rather than walking or biking.  I have searched your web site for positive guidance on this question, and can find none.  Study after study has found that the health benefits of walking and cycling, compared to driving a car, vastly outweigh the health costs, by a factor of around 20 to 1.  In other words, with all risks considered, walking and cycling are vastly safer than driving.
I do find on your site a lot of advice about safety devices such as seat belts and helmets, which can reduce injuries by 20-50%.  Why not then recommend active transportation, which is proven to reduce injuries by over 90%?  Surely that should be a major focus of your site?  When factors such as reduced air pollution, noise pollution, and reduced injury to third parties are included, the safety benefits are much greater still.
Sadly, there is even discouragement of active transportation on your site.  I read, for example, "Children under the age of 10 should not ride their bikes on the road."  I assume this was meant to read something like "Children under the age of 10 should be accompanied by adults or older children when riding on the road".  My own children have been riding with me on roads from the age of 5, quite safely.  They simply ride behind me, on quiet streets, following my wheel.  Your poor advice will do no good, but simply encourage parents to drive their children much more than necessary.  Please correct it.
I think a useful analogue to your advice about active transportation is the following.  In Canada, food-borne illness causes an estimated 11 million illnesses per year, leading to perhaps 30,000 hospital admissions and about 500 deaths.  Much of this disease results from eating fresh fruit and vegetables.  Processed foods, such as Kraft Dinner, are "safer" in this respect.  Yet should an organisation like Parachute recommend that children be fed only processed food?  Obviously not, since the health benefits of fresh fruit and veg vastly outweigh the risks.  The situation with active transportation is strongly analogous to this.

I look forward to seeing improvements in the information and advice you offer about active transportation.

Richard Johns