Fear of strangers and lack of green areas discourage children from walking more, suggests research published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (2007; 92, 29–33).

Researchers focused on six primary schools in England that were located in a cross section of areas in and around Birmingham. Researchers gathered responses from 473 children ages 9–11, based on evidence that lifelong exercise patterns are established around this age.

The survey questioned the children about how often they had walked in the previous week, their perceptions
of the local environment; and their individual travel preferences. Children who had made more than the average 20 trips by foot were classified as “high” walkers and
comprised just over 40% of the sample. Those who had walked fewer than 20 times were classified as “low” walkers and comprised well over half of the sample (58%). There was no difference between the sexes, but higher numbers of black and
minority children were classified as low walkers. Those whose families owned at least one car
also tended to walk less.

Only a third of children felt that heavy traffic made the local roads dangerous. This view
did not deter kids from walking. More of those who were classified as high walkers perceived
the neighborhood to be full of traffic. Almost two-thirds of children and over three-quarters
of parents expressed anxiety about “stranger danger.” Low walkers were more likely to worry about strangers when out alone; to claim that there were insufficient local parks and sports grounds; and to prefer traveling by bus or car.