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"There is a proven way to improve the health of a nation": Concerning obesity statistics spark calls for greater promotion of cycling and walking

West Midlands walking and cycling commissioner Adam Tranter pointed out that active travel has the "added benefits of saving people money and fitting into existing routines"...

The publication of NHS figures, showing hospital admissions linked to obesity have doubled in six years to more than 3,000 people a day, has prompted renewed calls for the government to prioritise active travel and use cycling as a "proven way to improve the health of a nation".

That comment came from the West Midlands' walking and cycling commissioner Adam Tranter who shared the figures, reported on the front page of today's edition of The Times, alongside a call for active travel to be part of the solution.

Cyclist LTN planter, Hackney London (by Adwitiya Pal)

"There is a proven way to improve the health of a nation: by designing our urban areas to promote walking and cycling," he told followers on X, the social media platform formerly called Twitter. "Active travel has the added benefits of saving people money and fitting into existing routines. Even the gentlest of exercise can transform health outcomes."

The NHS figures show that hospital ward admissions linked to obesity have doubled in six years and now stand at more than 3,000 people a day. There are three times as many admissions linked to obesity than there are linked to smoking, and more than 20 children a day are admitted in cases linked to obesity, a figure that has doubled.

In terms of cost, figures suggest the estimated cost of obesity to the NHS is £98 billion a year, which includes £19 billion of NHS treatment and £15 billion in economic productivity losses.

> Cycling and weight loss — Top tips for pedalling away the pounds the healthy and sustainable way

And while Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, told The Times that the Conservative government has "squandered numerous opportunities to make the UK a healthier place to live", active travel was not mentioned explicitly in her comments or the rest of the article.

Cooper accused the government of "choosing to kick the can down the road time and again".

Cyclists and pedestrians in Castle Park, Bristol (image: Adwitiya Pal)

"All this is having a huge impact on people's wellbeing, not to mention on our NHS and economy. Investing in improving public health would not only reduce pressure on the NHS, it would help get more people back to work and boost our economy," she said.

Sir Chris Whitty, the government's chief medical officer, has spoken about the benefits of cycling too, last year urging people to use the bicycle to tackle obesity.

> How to boost your cycling fitness when you're aged over 50

Applauding "imaginative" active travel schemes introduced during the pandemic, he said "the idea that the UK is a country [where] you can't actually do cycling is clearly incorrect" and labelled physical exercise one of the "most effective ways of improving health".

"And active transport is a particularly important way to do this because it builds it into people's normal routines of daily life, rather than being seen as something that is separate," he said.

Cycling UK too has advocated cycling as a means of tackling obesity, especially among children, and in 2017 argued getting more kids cycling should be a public health priority.

Responding to the most recent NHS figures, a government spokesperson said: "We are taking strong action to encourage healthier food choices and to tackle obes­ity across all socio-economic groups and in deprived areas, recognising that it is the second biggest cause of cancer."

Dan is the news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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marmotte27 | 5 months ago

Yeah, but "growth"...

Car Delenda Est replied to marmotte27 | 5 months ago

Not sure if obesity is the right kind of growth

Patrick9-32 | 5 months ago

As usual with our combatative governing system, its short term thinking rather than long term that wins elections. 

The car industry brings in tax money now and helps employment numbers look good. Supporting that at all costs helps optics now and at the next election but in the long term costs the country significantly in increased NHS costs. 

I don't claim to have a good solution but if governments could be incentivised into doing the most long term good, not gaining the most short term votes from indecisive swing voters, we would be in a better position on so many issues. 

HarrogateSpa replied to Patrick9-32 | 5 months ago

We don't know if long-term thinking on active travel wins elections, because it hasn't been attempted.

That said, although the Conservative manifesto was the worst of the bunch on active travel, quite a lot of progress was made under Andrew Gilligan.

chrisonabike replied to HarrogateSpa | 5 months ago
1 like

True - although you could argue that locally things have been done.  Perhaps Ken/Boris in London.

Probably the effect of "cycling" there either way was overshadowed by any number of things of more concern to the electorate though.

I think it's short-term thinking everywhere when it comes to human organisation.  (Although with metastable points - after all some organisations last for time).  I mean, that's usually a deliberate feature of democracy*.

However we know that it's at least possible for some short-term crowd-pleasing to incidentally align with longer-term wellbeing and stability.  So cycling is - mostly - not a political issue in NL - because people favour it as part of their narrow, selfish interests**.

Getting there from here though?  Probably needs some politician to take it on (like Boris, but more so) who will need more than the usual rhinocerous hide / infinite self-belief.  Jeremy Vine?

* Longer-term stability under wise rulers would be ideal... but it's sod's law you'll get sods who make the laws.  Thus regular upheavals in the shorter term hopefully staves off the worst of dynasties and long-lived dictators.  (And we've got a secure bureaucracy to smooth things).  And gives the proles an outlet before they reach for the torches and pitchforks.

** Cycling is mainstream so politics around it are mostly "how do you make it even more convenient?"  Although of course it still competes with the big corporate interests.  And just like here there are still out-groups that politicians can use to make some quick popular gains by having a go at.  They're just not cyclists, but e.g. motor scooter riders [1] [2].

bobbypuk replied to chrisonabike | 5 months ago
1 like

Jeremy Vine is the exact opposite of what we need as an advocate. He is only interested in stoking controversy and goes out of his way to make cycling look as dangerous as possible. We need people who just see cycling as a normal, safe thing to do. Johnson was closest to it, he just used a bike to get around and so pushed to make his life easier. Shame everything else about him was wrong. 

wtjs replied to bobbypuk | 5 months ago

Johnson was closest to it, he just used a bike to get around and so pushed to make his life easier

Wow! Extreme self-delusion alert!! Johnson lied and deceived about anything and everything.

sheridan replied to wtjs | 5 months ago

wtjs wrote:

Johnson was closest to it, he just used a bike to get around and so pushed to make his life easier

Wow! Extreme self-delusion alert!! Johnson lied and deceived about anything and everything.

Yup - here's an example that stuck with me (the bit I remembered was that Johnson made up a figure, hadn't seen this exchange that followed it):

eburtthebike | 5 months ago

While it's not exactly news that active travel is the quickest, easiest, most cost effective way of tackling the obesity epidemic, we have a government which supports driving and nothing else.  I wrote to my MP, Mark Harper, making just those points, and three months later received a reply which was his conference speech, when he says that the tories are the party of the driver.

The fact that he is almost certain to lose his seat in the next election isn't much comfort when he could still be there for another year. 

Doubtless we'll get the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth at the impossibility of doing anything to tackle obesity, apart from the failed policies of taxing fast food and sugar, while the msm will focus entirely on diet, ignoring the proven effects of active travel.

Muddy Ford | 5 months ago

As it's annual awards time, perhaps could do an award for employer contribution/consideration for employee cycling incentives (e.g. provision of changing/bike storage facilities) , or one of their reviews could be a review of the best employers for cycling support.  

jaymack replied to Muddy Ford | 5 months ago

Now that's a bloody good idea...

grumpyoldcyclist replied to Muddy Ford | 5 months ago

An excellent idea, I'd nominate my employer, M&S Bank immediately. They are absoluyely brilliant, honest. Secure storage, changing rooms, lockers, hot showers and they supply the clean towels.

Nobody will beat that

stonojnr replied to Muddy Ford | 5 months ago

But how would you judge it ? employers can provide all that stuff/facilities etc and still not be pushing active travel as a viable option.

Muddy Ford replied to stonojnr | 5 months ago

stonojnr wrote:

But how would you judge it ? employers can provide all that stuff/facilities etc and still not be pushing active travel as a viable option.

That's what awards do, compare and highlight the best. My company provides changing facilities with towels, lockers and secure bike storage just like the M&S Bank mentioned below. But the spend per employee on this stuff is lower than a little company in town that just provides secure bike parking and a changing room for all of it's 10 employees. Does the employer do special days to encourage cycling to work such as free breakfasts etc? My company bizarrely encouraged more employees to drive to work on quiet days, success being measured by how full the car park was, so I wouldnt expect them to win an award for being pro-cycling.  If collated some info and whittled down a selection of 20 companies, we could all vote for the top 3.  

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