On Tuesday, the Health Secretary, John Reid, is expected to unveil a White Paper on public health which will cover obesity, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases. Cycling will be lauded as key way of getting about and keeping fit, but the mainstream media will likely major on 'traffic light' food labelling, junk food ads bans, and 'free' training by 'lifestyle gurus', anything but suggesting people get out of their cars...In May a House of Commons committee report on health fingered cycling as THE key way to curb obesity.
Cycling was the one key measure "that might achieve more in the fight against obesity than any individual measure we recommend within this report."
However, the plug was missed by the mainstream media. Instead, the focus was on food labelling and a 'fat tax.'
The same result may happen on Tuesday.
On Sunday, The Observer quoted Professor Ken Fox, a social psychologist from the University of Bristol, who has been instrumental in helping ministers try to frame an activity policy, said:
"Walking and cycling are the two activities which would make a fundamental difference to everyone's lives. But that means making it a crucial part of a transport policy, and designing streets that are walkable, and putting in cycle routes to schools, and I'm really worried that won't happen."
The Observer reported that "the government will be encouraging companies to set up a system of tax breaks for those who cycle to work, and it is putting this into action by giving more than half a million civil servants an entitlement to a free bicycle."
This sounds like a plug for the existing Booost scheme, see BikeBiz.com passim.
However, other parts of the White Paper may contain new research on the exceedingly good health benefits of cycling, beefing up earlier research that showed the health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks.
There's believed to be no mention of compulsory cycle helmets in the White Paper.
However, will the White Paper be as pro-cycling as May's report from MPs?
At the time, committee chairman David Hinchliffe said:
Our inquiry is a wake-up call for Government to show that the causes of ill health need to be tackled by many Departments not just Health.
"Wholesale cultural and societal changes will be needed if any headway is to be made. The urban infrastructure will need to be completely redesigned to encourage an active lifestyle."
The cross-party committee remarked that the key to improving activity levels across society is to boost activity in everyday life in areas such as transport.
The committee calls on the government to "take serious measures to boost cycling such as creating properly segregated cycle lanes."
The report has some jump-out passages on cycling:
40. We believe that providing safe routes to school for walking and cycling, adequate and safe play areas in and out of school is very important in the battle against obesity. (Paragraph 284)
46. It would not be appropriate for us to spell out the individual measures required to achieve the Government's ambitious cycling targets, although we were particularly impressed by the segregation of cyclists from road traffic we witnessed in Odense. If the Government were to achieve its target of trebling cycling in the period 2000-2010 (and there are very few signs that it will) that might achieve more in the fight against obesity than any individual measure we recommend within this report. So we would like the Department of Health to have a strategic input into transport policy and we believe it would be an important symbolic gesture of the move from a sickness to a health service if the Department of Health offered funding to support the Department for Transport's sustainable transport town pilots. (Paragraph 316)
PDF of the May report: