Transport and planning policies are creating places that
discourage physical activity and contribute to heart disease and rising
obesity rates, according to a report released today by the National
Heart Forum, Living Streets and the Commission for Architecture and the Built
Sprawling suburbs can lead to spreading waistlines: the layout
of towns, cities and buildings influence the amount of exercise which
people take naturally in their daily lives. The report, Building
health, provides a blueprint for action, including changing transport
policies in which 'the car is king', and locating housing, shops and
services to encourage walking and cycling. With three million new homes
being built by 2020, planning and design decisions made now will affect
the shape of communities and public health for decades to come.
European cities such as Copenhagen have proved that it is
possible to have thriving city centres which cater fully for
pedestrians and cyclists, making healthy living seem the easy option.
The recommendations are aimed at policymakers, planners,
architects and transport professionals in the UK. Practical
recommendations for new ministers include a 'health check' on every
investment programme, to assess its impact on levels of physical
activity and other aspects of health; strengthening guidelines for key
strategic planning documents to make health and physical activity a key
goal alongside sustainable development; and integrating health
promotion principles into the training of built environment
professionals such as highways and transport engineers and town
The report argues that the investment in regenerating East
London for the 2012 Olympics must create a legacy of more opportunities
for everyday physical activity in the new built environment being
Paul Lincoln of the National Heart Forum says it is important
that the active and healthy choice should be the easy choice. 'The
human body is designed to be active' he says, 'and the growing rates of
obesity and other chronic diseases are a natural reaction to the alien
environment we have created by engineering out physical activity.'
The Prime Minister has proposed an investment of
£100m in five hours of PE a week for school children, to
foster a new generation of great athletes. Young people who will never
be athletic, and who are at greater risk of obesity, diabetes and heart
disease, will however become healthier through well designed school
buildings and playgrounds, interesting walking and cycling routes to
school, and opportunities for informal play and other outdoor
'Active lifestyles cannot be separated from the design of our
streets, towns and cities,' points out Tom Franklin of Living Streets.
'They are part of the bricks and mortar of our everyday lives.'
Richard Simmons of CABE argues that more investment was needed
in the creation of high quality built environments. If just a small
percentage of the money spent on treating obesity related diseases was
spent on preventing them in the first place, a lot of public money
would be saved.
The recommendations in the Blueprint for action will form the
basis for a continuing advocacy campaign. Government must work across
departments, and with public health professionals, local authorities
and the planning, development and architecture professions, to find
innovative ways to make it easier for people to be active every day.