More than two in three Australian children and teenagers are being driven to school, a new survey suggests.
The figures released on Monday showed more than 50 per cent of parents believed it was important that children be able to walk to school without an adult, but fewer than one-third believed it was safe for them to do so.
Some 64 per cent of parents reported driving their school-aged children to school most days, found the national survey of 2012 adults, roughly half of whom were parents living with their children.
NSW had the highest proportion of parents who said there was too much traffic on the roads for their children to walk to school (69 per cent).
When asked if it was safe to walk to school alone, 20 per cent of parents strongly disagreed and 25 per cent disagreed, found the survey conducted by the Heart Foundation's LiveLighter campaign.
Almost 60 per cent of parents said their children's schools were too far to walk or cycle, and 35 per cent said time was a factor. The survey allowed respondents to select multiple answers.
The findings suggested Australians were increasingly reliant on their cars to get too and from their children's schools, the LiveLighter campaign organisers said.
One-quarter of parents said there was a lack of safe routes, and another quarter said personal safety was the reason their child did not walk or ride their bike to school. Over one-fifth said convenience was an issue.
School-age children need one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise everyday, according to Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines.
The results were released a week before most Australian children return to school in an effort to encourage parents to think of ways to incorporate more physical activity into their children's daily schedules.
"Sometimes we know driving to school is completely unavoidable," said Heart Foundation Victoria Healthy Living Manager Roni Beauchamp.
"We know it's often hard to get a car park near school, so why not park a little further away and walk with the kids, if you're concerned about safety," she said.
A 10- or 15-minute walk from the car to school would given children an opportunity to learn about their environment and gain the health benefits of physical activity including improving their concentration and building self confidence.
Exercise in childhood also supports muscle and bone development and helps reduce the risk of developing serious health problems later in life, previous research has shown.
The survey also found children whose families had a household income between $55,000 and $100,000 were more likely to cycle to and from school (20 per cent) than those living in households with lower incomes (15 per cent) and those in more affluent families earning over $100,000 (15 per cent).
The amount of exercise children do was not simply a matter of a lack of individual motivation and parents' decisions.
Population-based research has shown socioeconomic status and proximity to CBDs were major predictors of exercise and obesity rates, among adults and children, with people in lower socio economic groups living further away from city centres more likely to be overweight or obese, drive to work and do little exercise compared to more well-off families.
"It really shouldn't matter where you live, you should have equal access to the infrastructure that allows you to make healthy choices about the physical activity you do," Ms Beauchamp said.
The organisation has partnered with city and town designers at all levels of government to improve access to public transport, walking paths and cycling tracks nationally.
The survey did not include a breakdown of the age of children or whether beliefs varied between parents of primary and high school students.
Ms Beauchamp said previous research suggested parents of young girls were most likely to report walking to school alone was unsafe.
Three in four adults drive to work
The survey also found one-quarter of adult respondents walk to work or to study (27 per cent), close to three-quarters said they drive or get a lift, and one-third use public transport.
More than one in three adults reported not using public transport at all. The same proportion said it was inconvenient and one-quarter said there was a lack of accessibility.
Some 68 per cent of adults said their place of work or study was too far away to walk or cycle, 40 per cent said time was the issue and 23 per cent put it down to convenience.
"We need to fall out of love with our cars and start enjoying the outdoors," said LiveLighter campaign manager Alison McAleese.
She cited previous research that suggested just one in four adults do the recommended minimum amount of exercise and one in seven do not exercise at all.
Adults who exercise regularly are less likely to develop chronic diseases, including heart disease and risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight.
Adults should aim for 2?? to five hours of moderate exercise or 1?? to 2?? hours of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both each week.