Up to 50 primary schools in the ACT have signed up to the Ride or Walk to School Program, as Chief Minister Katy Gallagher seeks to address alarming levels of childhood obesity in the territory.
The program, which was launched by Ms Gallagher at the Arawang Primary School on Friday morning, will provide schools with equipment and training to encourage children to safely ride or walk to their classes.
"It is great to see so many Canberra schools embracing the Ride or Walk to School program, which enables schools to provide their students with an environment that encourages safe cycling and walking to school," Ms Gallagher said.
One in five girls entering kindergarten in the ACT are classified as overweight and obese and boys are faring little better - about one in eight are above the healthy weight range, ACT Health statistics show.
More than a quarter of ACT school children are now overweight or obese but the number of students smoking and drinking is falling, according to a government study released in October.
Overall, 26.3 per cent of ACT children aged five to 17 are overweight or obese, according to the 2011-12 Australian Health Survey.
"We need to keep promoting opportunities for children to be active and getting to and from school is a simple way that children can get some exercise, which has not only health benefits but helps them to learn while in the classroom," Ms Gallagher said.
"Only about one-fifth of children aged five to 17 in the ACT are meeting physical activity recommendations, and one quarter are reported as being overweight or obese.
"This program is part of the solution to turn these figures around."
But the obesity problem in the ACT is not limited to children in schools and extends to adults of all ages.
The ACT's combined overweight and obesity rate grew from 23 per cent in 1995 to 63 per cent last year, while a quarter of our children are now too heavy.
Council of Australian Governments data shows the territory is continuing to lose its war on fat, with 25 per cent of Canberrans now considered obese and a further 38 per cent considered overweight.
The Ride or Walk to School program will be delivered by the Physical Activity Foundation after receiving a government grant to deliver the initiative in schools across the ACT.
Ms Gallagher said the program would also address road safety issues and ensure students had bike storage at their schools.
"I would like to congratulate the Physical Activity Foundation for their hard work in encouraging children to become more active and I call on all schools in the ACT to sign up to this program and help to do their bit to reduce the rates of overweight and obesity in the ACT," she said.
- with Ewa Kretowicz