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Putting the clocks back used to mark a season of anxiety in emergency medicine. The darker mornings and evenings meant that children walking to and from school became potential prey for careless drivers too busy texting their mates or adjusting their make-up to notice them.
This risk spawned a whole fashion for fluorescent strips attached to anoraks and school bags — accessories so bright that they could be seen from the other side of town and possibly even from space.
This problem has since been solved by resourceful parenting. With children all but banished from ‘dangerous’ parks, gardens and playgrounds, walking to school has become not just a thing of the past but actually verges on child neglect. Who would subject their child to the twin dangers of heavy traffic and oily fumes when they can be packed safely into a four-wheel drive and transported around the corner to school?
It’s the ultimate proof of Darwin’s theory of evolution, except that it works the other way around. In Darwin’s day it was about survival of the fittest; now it seems the kids most likely to survive are the unfittest, fattest, laziest and most cosseted.
The fittest and those without access to a big car don’t stand a chance. Daily exposure to the risk of being run over by their friend’s mum as she reverses a two-ton armoured tank across the school playground isn’t exactly conducive to their long-term survival.
Fit kids also have a nasty habit of exposing themselves to the potentially lethal mix of climbing trees, bouncing off trampolines, riding bikes, going fishing and playing football. It’s surprising any of them make it back to the sofa for their TV dinner and teenage strop.
But perhaps we health professionals need to take some of the blame. I myself have railed against children launching themselves into neighbouring galaxies from their garden trampolines, and may therefore be personally responsible for a fat kid on a sofa somewhere. Sure, their dislocated elbow has now healed, but they have also been removed from any excitement and can look forward to a life wrapped in cotton wool as they are driven from one takeaway restaurant to the next.
There is, of course, the possibility that evolution will redress the balance with a further pendulum swing. If the isolated, protected and imprisoned generation fails to form relationships from the safety of its bedroom and thus dies out, the feral kids will make a comeback — assuming emergency medicine keeps them going long enough to reproduce. Fortunately, our teen pregnancy rates suggest this will only need to be until they are about 12 years old, so it might not be as difficult as it seems.
Perhaps the moral of all this is that we shouldn’t interfere so much with natural selection. If we just stopped giving dodgy health protection advice to the impressionable, we could avoid the dangers caused by the swing of a pendulum or the tick of an autumn clock.
Charles Lamb is a consultant in emergency medicine