A YEAR on from the hype, the drama and the rush of gold medals, we now know the truth of the Olympic legacy for our children.
With new research showing that fewer kids are taking part in sport than five years ago, it seems the event has not inspired a new generation to get physically active.
Actually, I don't know why anyone imagined the quick and easy kick of watching sport would prompt actual participation, or have much impact on anyone other than those already sporty enough to believe they could be the next Jessica Ennis-Hill.
Sport was supposed to save us. And watching sport was meant to get us halfway there, setting us on the right track to deliverance from obesity, inactivity and slothfulness. But most of us always knew this was a myth. If the Government really wanted to get more kids involved in sport, it would provide more local facilities and schedule in more games periods.
The Olympics was a fabulous show. But competitive sport was never going to save us. Nor is scheduling formal "physical activity" into the day. What is needed is a whole reshaping of the car-centric towns and cities we live in, so that kids can, once more, go out to play.
A report in the BMJ Open journal says that half of all seven-year-olds are not exercising enough to stay healthy. Author, Professor Carol Dezateux, advocates the introduction of policies to promote exercise among girls and also to make it easier for children to walk to school.
Her suggestions are good ones. But they represent the tip of an iceberg. The walk to school for my family takes around 15 minutes and, though it's a good start to the day, it's hardly going to overload the accelerometer. While the journey to school should be made safer, this has to be just the start of something bigger. The problem is, we live in a world where it is considered unsafe for children to walk, run or roam almost anywhere unsupervised.
As a child I didn't walk to school as I lived on a farm - I got a lift with my aunt, who was a teacher. But at home, I roamed. Kids at my school who lived in town also roamed. We were already covering less ground than our parents had done - my dad walked three miles to school - but we were still allowed to go out and play. Not so the kids of today, whether they live in the town or countryside, and whatever their socioeconomic group. Kids from wealthy backgrounds get more programmed sporting activities, but they don't get to roam more.
I'm lucky enough to live in an area where the walk to school is taken almost for granted. Around 50% of UK children walk to school, but the figures here in Leith are much higher. Car-droppers are the odd minority.
But, even here, outside this morning commute, you don't see many children out and about without parents. And when you do, they stand out.
Out in the park last week, I watched a small gang of nine and 10-year-olds hanging out at the swings, swigging energy drinks. My immediate thought was that these kids were trouble. What kind of irresponsible parents would let their children roam like this? But I wondered: weren't those parents being irresponsible in a way I longed to be?
For me, the pre-school years have been the easy bit. I didn't find it hard to let my children climb trees or get out of arm's reach. The bigger challenge begins now. My son is six and I'm aware that he has never been beyond our front door unsupervised, never gone down from our upper flat and out into the big world on his own.
When will he do it? At seven? Eight? When I imagine it, I feel mild panic. I want my child to roam, but out there is a busy street, people and other intangible perils that I can't quite pin down or name.
Fear, not laziness, is at the heart of this. We parents fear two main things: people and cars. The former, the fear of child abduction, is far out of proportion to the actuality of the risk, but the latter has reasonable grounds. In 2011, 412 children under the age of 16 were killed or seriously injured on the roads. These account for more than half of the accidental deaths of five to 14-year-olds.
Children from poorer backgrounds are six times more likely to be injured on a road. But we also need to remember that most accidents happen in the home. These protective bubbles are places of risk too.
We can blame the cars. But the problem is that we long ago reached the critical mass of fear required to make it self-sustaining. I fear letting my kids out because no-one else lets their kids out and therefore there must be something rashly irresponsible about doing that. I fear it because it risks peer disapproval. I fear it because the outdoors has become synonymous with fear.
A change has happened in the last 50 years. Its impact reaches far beyond a matter of exercise or calories burned to how we are fostering independence, self-reliance and ability to assess risk. How do we reverse this? When there are no children roaming the streets or parks unsupervised or with older kids watching over the younger ones, then creating that culture can seem too great a challenge.
But we have to begin somewhere - and that place is the environment. We do need safer walking routes for kids, not just to school but to other places and spaces. All of us need to start using cars less for short journeys, cutting back on the hum of danger that rolls through our streets. We need more cycle paths. We need more residential streets closed off for play. We need our towns and cities to be reshaped so children can move through them.
But we also need more trust. We need to start believing that we can all look out for each other, and for each other's children. And that is almost the bigger ask.
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