Long gone are the days when children routinely walked home from neighborhood schools, following railroad tracks and short-cutting across carefully manicured lawns. As the obesity rate continues to rise, doctors say the health benefits of walking are lost to a generation of “helicopter parents” worried more about their children’s immediate safety.

In a new study from the United Kingdom, psychologist David Rowe finds that parents tend to make the final decision on how younger children commute to school, often insisting on driving or bussing rather than walking or biking.

"The journey between school and home provides an ideal opportunity for physical activity but it is by no means always taken,” the investigator said in a press statement from the University of Strathclyde. "It may be that parents want their children to travel by car or bus for their safety. This is perfectly understandable but it also means that they can miss out on a great deal of beneficial physical activity and it could be that the children want to walk or cycle themselves."

In following a sampling of 166 schoolchildren around the age of 9, Rowe found that approximately half commuted to school on foot. The average child took about 1,627 steps per day, the equivalent of about a mile. As expected, children walked less during the colder months beginning in autumn, hibernating until spring.

Rowe presented the findings Wednesday in Toronto at the Global Summit on the Physical Activity of Children as part of an ongoing investigation into the walking habits of children between the ages of 8 and 9.

"We would recommend that measures aimed at increasing walking to school should be targeted not only to older children, who may be in a position to make their own decisions, but also to parents of younger children, as they will have the final say on how their child travels,” he said. “Exercise is an indispensable part of children's health and wellbeing and is vital in tackling the increasing obesity problem worldwide.”

The study was also associated with Travelling Green, an advisory available to schools through Sustrans, a U.K.-based organization promoting healthier habits of walking and biking. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 18 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds were obese in 2012.