Invest in transport system that better supports nation’s health, charity urges policymakers

Research by the Health Foundation has highlighted the link between the quality of transport and the country’s health.

Examining the impact of the pandemic, the research has noted that national lockdown measures have had a disruptive impact on the use of transport. Levels of car use fell to a third of pre-pandemic levels following the first lockdown and public transport use fell even more sharply. However, while use of transport has remained relatively low, car traffic has normalised more quickly than public transport.

The analysis has also noted that while restrictions have been in place, there has been a clear rise in walking and cycling – which the researchers say presents an opportunity for policymakers to further encourage greener and healthier forms of travel by investing further in the infrastructure that supports these activities.

Increasing levels of walking and cycling in all regions of England to that of regions with the furthest distance walked or cycled could prevent 1,189 deaths per year, the research has revealed. If exercise levels increased each week by a combined 30 minutes of cycling and 30 minutes of walking – a relatively small increase across the population as a whole – there would be an annual reduction of around 6,100 deaths.

This analysis, which is based on the World Health Organisation’s HEAT tool, suggests that the majority of this improvement (around 80%) would come from those aged 50 to 74, with the greatest possible improvement in the rate of prevented deaths in the North East and West Midlands given the lower levels of cycling and walking there currently. The South East would see the greatest possible reduction in the number of deaths, mainly due to the larger population in that region.

David Finch, senior fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “A good transport system is essential for a healthy society. The impact of air pollution on health is well known but transport affects the health of people across society, in multiple ways. Investing in transport is one way we can help address widening health inequalities and regional disparities in people’s health.

“The investment required to support the UK’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to reshape our transport infrastructure and “level up” access. It is essential that the Government embeds these aims in new infrastructure projects, to increase safe cycling and walking facilities and to improve the availability, reliability and affordability of public transport services.”

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