A culture of fear and lack of public transport in regional centres, such as the city of Bunbury, in the electorate of Forrest, is contributing to a growing obesity problem among young people in the country areas.

Bunbury has struggled with an obesity epidemic for a long time. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2014-15 that one in four children aged 5-17 years living in Bunbury were overweight or obese. The Australian Healthy Survey named the region in the top five most obese in the state.

The second Active Healthy Kids Australia Report Card was released last year and there is some positive news for Australian children. In 2014 Australian Children did not fare very well receiving a D grade for their physical fitness levels. In the 2015 report that grade has been lifted to a C.

Many children said that they would like greater mobility to walk and cycle more but are often restricted by their own safety concerns and those of their parents. 

"I think having instant access to information makes people more afraid," said Narrelle De Boer, a Bunbury resident and parent to three children. 

Studies have shown that one of the biggest things keeping children from being more physically active is parental over protectiveness and paranoia about stranger danger and traffic safety. 

"I think the world has changed from when we were kids. We're more connected now because of social media. When something bad happens we hear about it. In the past we might not have. This makes us more afraid," said Rachel McEleney, another parent living in Bunbury.

University of WA report “Nothing but fear itself” claims that parental fear and over protectiveness is often unjustified. In most violent crimes involving children the perpetrator is someone known to the child, not a stranger.

“It is good for parents to keep an eye out for danger and to educate their children about stranger danger, but they also need to keep in mind that a lot of the terrible things that happen to children are done by people who are close to them, not strangers,” said Steve Thomas, spokesperson for the office of Nola Marino, the Federal Member for Forrest.

In addition, crime rates have been steadily dropping, which makes the chance of something terrible happening to a child left unsupervised less likely. So why then are parents still so reluctant to let their child out of their sight?

According to the UWA study, a lot of parents feel pressured to limit their child’s ability to roam unsupervised because of a backlash against “latch-key” children and the growing opinion that intense supervision is the sign of a good parent. Many parents said that they would like to give their children more freedom but are afraid of being judged by others for not being protective enough.  

“The role of government should be minimalist and parents should be left largely to themselves to decide when a child is old enough to walk to and from school unescorted by an adult,” said Thomas.

The result of this reluctance to let children roam is heavy reliance on cars. In rural areas dependence on cars is more understandable when you factor in lack of public transport and long distances between towns.

In the 2011 census 51,689 people living in Bunbury said they regularly took a car to work while only 2,465 people walked and 1,691 took public transport.

Studies have shown that there is a direct link between inactivity and the rise in obesity which is probably why obesity levels in rural areas are at 32.4% compared to Perth which is at 14.2%.

It is vital that parents encourage their children to become more physically active and life a healthier lifestyle.  De Boer spoke about how she encouraged her children to go to places in pairs or groups and to call when they arrive to let her know they are safe. 

"Every parent fears losing their child. It's normal. But children have to go out and experience the world. As parents we have to teach them how to be independent and then we have to let them go and trust they will be all right."

 

Sources:

Narrelle de Boer, Rachel McEleney, Schranz, N. (2015). The Road Less Travelled: 2015 Progress Report Card on Active Transport for Children and Young People. Retrieved 17 April from http://www.activehealthykidsaustralia.com.au/siteassets/documents/ahka_reportcard_2015_web.pdf

Zubrick, S. & Wood, L. & Villanueva., & Wood, G., & Giles-Corti, B & Christian, H. (2010). Nothing but fear itself: Parental fear as a determinant impacting on child physical activity and independent mobility. Retrieved 17 April from http://telethonkids.org.au/media/205681/nothing_but_fear_itself_full_report.pdf