Kids and Bikes, Designed to Move

Kids and Bikes, Designed to Move

The solution to the children’s obesity crisis in the US may in part lie in a piece of technology invented over 200 years ago: the bicycle. That’s right, this modern day epidemic may best be served by a not-so-modern device.

Nike’s Designed to Move report and the accompanying video make it clear that today’s generation of youngsters can expect to celebrate five fewer birthdays than their parents, due in large part to a “widespread physical inactivity epidemic.” The consequences go beyond just physical health, negatively impacting people’s economic and emotional well-being as well.

Now it’s easy to be critical of the report. Yes, Nike has everything to gain from more people getting off the couch and just doin’ it; more active people means more potential swoosh customers. And yes, the report ignores other culprits of the crisis, for instance omitting increased gorking out on overly-processed, chemically-laden foods than ever.

But regardless of the company’s underlying motivations, the call to action is a good one: just get moving. And Nike might just have sufficient influence to lead change and help reverse this desperate trend.

Since 1965, the US has seen a 32% decline in physical activity. The picture is almost as bleak in the UK where levels have dropped by 25% since 1961. Even more startling is China; in the wake of rapid industrialization, physical activity has declined 45% in the last two decades.

Authors of the study acknowledge that addressing a problem of this magnitude will take systemic change. But they do point to bikes as part of it.

Bikes are cost-effective, easy to use, fun, and elevate heart rates. Additionally biking can just become part of people’s daily routine without disrupting it entirely: jump on your bike to pedal to school rather than get a drive or take a bus. The report states that “we must find ways to integrate the physical activity we’ve lost back into our lives,” and this is an easy way to do so.

However, cities have a role to play in facilitating this process. The Australian Heart Foundation found that while a majority of parents want their kids to ride to school, fewer than 1 in 10 actually do. 60% of parents drive their kids to school, citing safety concerns as their primary motivator.

Portland, Oregon and the Safe Routes to School program were acknowledged as great examples of the changes and infrastructure needed to make this shift to an active lifestyle feasible. It’s not the first time better infrastructure for cyclists has been called on, but having the mighty voice of Nike calling on change may help to strengthen that call.

October 9, 2012