Walk on: getting Victoria on the move

One of the simplest ways to prevent obesity is to walk more, every day.

One of the simplest ways to prevent obesity is to walk more, every day.

But including the simple act of walking in our day, whether purposefully or incidentally, is becoming more of a challenge as our environment is increasingly built to support a sedentary lifestyle.

Last week, a coalition of leading Victorian health agencies, including IPAN, called on the State Government to step up its preventative action on childhood obesity. The agencies released a consensus statement, A Healthier Start for Victorians, which highlights the alarming fact that almost a quarter of Victorian children are overweight or obese.

The statement also included eight policy recommendations, one of which was to develop and implement a strategy to get Victorians walking more.

Such a strategy would include infrastructure and urban design that promotes and encourages walking to local destinations like shops, public transport, schools, parks and recreation spaces. It would also involve public education to make walking a more acceptable .

The recommendation followed the release of research on adolescents’ activity levels by IPAN’s Professor Jo Salmon and Dr Harriet Koorts, which showed that teenagers’ involvement in organised sport has a negligible impact on their daily physical activity.

The world-first study found those who played sport accumulated just seven minutes more of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, compared to those who did not.

Professor Salmon said while playing sport had many benefits, including physical benefits, the research showed that we need to find more opportunities to be physically active, such as incidental exercise and walking to and from school.

She said walking needed to be encouraged in every age group, from primary school age to adulthood.

“As a starting point, we know almost three quarters of primary school aged kids aren’t getting enough daily physical activity to be healthy and well,” she said. “We want to help them develop healthy habits right from the start.”

It is widely known that lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity are the biggest factors in the ability to prevent chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

A dedicated walking strategy would complement the Victorian Government’s existing cycling strategy, which aims to increase the number of Victorians choosing bikes as transport.

“Developing a walking strategy would mean setting targets to increase walking participation. It would also allow the benefits of walking to be incorporated into infrastructure business cases.” – Professor Salmon

The consensus statement released last week also highlighted IPAN’s highly-acclaimed REVAMP study, which measured the impact of a major playspace refurbishment in a Melbourne park in terms of visitor numbers and the amount of physical activity, as compared to a control park. REVAMP provides evidence that park design is an important influence on the number of park users and the amount of park-based physical activity.

“IPAN at Deakin is highly regarded as a leader in research on obesity prevention. Our research and practical initiatives are vitally important to improve the health and wellbeing of our community, and also to reduce the future cost burden of chronic diseases on our health system,” Professor Salmon said.

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