You can't turn the page of a newspaper, or scroll down a news website, without tripping over yet another story about blubber. We're drowning in the stuff. And, as we're constantly told, children of today are more sedentary than ever before. One way for kids to get in a dose of daily exercise is cycling to school and many UK government departments are linking up to encourage safe routes to school. So, why are the two people pictured here behind a Bill that would likely lead to a drop in cycling levels among children?

The MP, the nurse and the rising tide of obesity

Eric Marlew MP and BHIT director Angela Lee, a former paediatric nurse, probably have the best of intentions and want to save children’s lives.

But why pick on cycling? Why is BHIT the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust and not simply HIT? Instead of just 10 lives saved per year, hundreds could be saved if children wore helmets when being ferried around in cars. Ditto for children climbing trees and when walking/running/skipping.

In the Netherlands, cycle helmets are rare, yet there is no epidemic of head trauma caused by cycling. The health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by a factor of 20:1.

Obesity is fast becoming a major killer. Within the next 20 years, parents will routinely outlive their obese children.

The number of children currenntly at risk of dying prematurely through obesity is about 12 000 times those suffering serious head injury each year through cycling and which might be mitigated by a helmet that was 100 percent effective. That ratio is predicted to double by the year 2020.

Roger Geffen, CTC’s campaign’s manager, says the CTC and other cycle groups are working flat-out on compiling pro-bicycle submissions to a wide variety of government health and transport plans. He despairs of Martlew and Lee’s timing.

"The government’s 10 Year Transport Plan, its guidance to councils on their Local Transport Plans, its Road Safety Strategy are all being reviewed at present, as is the whole of the planning system. The Department of Transport is drawing up an Active Travel Action Plan as part of the government-wide Physical Activity Strategy.

"And there is the Strategic Rail Authority’s consultation draft cycling policy, and three government Bills (Traffic Management Bill, draft School Travel Bill and Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill) in Parliament. We’re trying to get the best deal for cycling out of all of them. Virtually all of these need to be dealt with by July, most of them by end April. The last thing we want to be doing is to have to spend vast amounts of time on bloody helmets just now!

"It’s massively undermining our ability to influence all these other policy frameworks which might actually help to move cycling forward in this country. I don’t suppose Angie [Lee] has the faintest idea how much damage she is doing."

Martlew pic by Cumbrian Newspapers Limited

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