Prioritise active travel, physical inactivity is killing us, say MPs

Parliamentarians say physical inactivity is killing 37,000 people per year. But will Gov't dare to get sloths out of cars?
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A no holds barred parliamentary report is calling on the Government to wake up to the potential of walking and cycling as a means of getting Brits active and healthy. Every year physical inactivity costs the UK economy £20bn and causes 37,000 premature deaths in England alone, says the All-Party Commission on Physical Activity. The Government must “provide long-term continuity of resources to incentivise and facilitate walking and cycling as regular daily transport,” say the MPs, including Cambridge’s Dr Julian Huppert.

This is the first of two reports from the All-Party Commission on Physical Activity, which was set up in October 2013. The first report sets out the scale and scope of the problem, and maps out the specific areas that will require change.

The report’s authors, and athletes including runner Paula Radcliffe, sprinter Mark Cavendish, and footballer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, will deliver a copy of the report to the three main parties and 10 Downing Street today. The Government, of course, will welcome the report, and then almost wholly ignore it, not daring to risk the wrath of a nation of motoring sloths.

Last year, the Government but pledged billions to build more roads, butkiboshed the planned Office for Active Travel.

Nobody can say the Government wasn’t warned about the various physical inactivity time-bombs, including the obesity one.

The report says: “The UK faces an epidemic of physical inactivity. Over the last half century we have simply stopped moving—in our schools, our work places, our towns, cities—and how we get between them. In all human history, we have never been so inactive. But the human body was designed to move, and this slow down in activity has seen significant consequences to our health and economy.”

Dr Huppert said: “Inactivity poses huge problems for our health, and yet far too many of us do very little physical activity, if any. It’s not about being a top sportsperson, it’s about doing something regularly – something we can all manage. We can all walk or cycle more often, find time to go for a swim or a jog.

“Otherwise, we will continue to face growing obesity levels, more diabetes and other illnesses, worsening our health and how we will be able to live our lives when we are older. It also costs the country a huge amount of money!”

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said: “The threat that obesity poses to our society cannot be under-estimated. I am delighted that the different sectors who can effect a change in this area have come together to give evidence, and with their guidance I hope that we can raise awareness of the importance of physical activity and start work on helping to eradicate the obesity epidemic.”

Charlotte Leslie MP said Britain was suffering from a “toxic tidal-wave of physical inactivity.”

Barbara Keeley MP said the scale of harm caused by physical inactivity is similar to that caused by smoking.

The report calls for the creation of a cross-sector and cross-departmental National Action Plan supported by the leaders of all the three major political parties.

Sustrans Chief Executive Malcolm Shepherd, said: “The easiest and single most effective way of increasing physical activity is to transform our daily journeys to school, work or leisure into active journeys by walking or cycling. The average primary school journey is just 1.5 miles – the perfect distance to walk or cycle. Making the public realm welcoming for walking and cycling is the key to increasing physical activity. This means simple things such as better pavements and cycle lanes, lower speeds and a public commitment to funding for active travel.”

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