Sunday, 19 October 2014

NHS & combatting the obesity crisis with active travel

There is an interview published on the Guardian website today with the Chief Executive of NHS England

He states that the NHS needs to lead from the front on the battle against obesity, and one of his suggestions is for gym membership & slimming clubs as options for those that want to take it up.
These options are all very well for the people with the time or the inclination to spend evenings at gyms etc. and should not be discarded. For may though it's too much time & after a long hard day at work it can be too much.

What the NHS  needs to do, which could be much more effective is to really encourage people to walk and cycle to work and whilst at work. This needs to be as big & as obvious a push as the campaigns to stop smoking, and to encourage take up of the flu jabs. Below is one campaign my Trust ran against smoking, photobombed for cycling!

Building exercise into the daily routine by replacing sedentary activities such as driving is an excellent way as people don't need to find extra time & it can save money in car running costs and fuel as well. A win win all round.

What could NHs Trusts do?

  • Keep cycle2work schemes open all year around. My scheme opened for only 2 months, but I can lease a car on salary sacrifice to save tax on that purchase all year round. 
  • Trusts should offer incentives to get people to change habits. Car use is often a habit that can be broken. Commuter challenges with prizes for the most journeys to replace cars & calories burnt etc. This month long challenge ran across Sunderland in September is an excellent example. 
  • Create prominent information pages & signage on workplace facilities such as changing space and secure cycle parking. I know when I started cycling to work, such information was hard to find.
  • Generate & publicise maps of safe(r) cycling routes to sites, and between sites along with timings. Travelling between sites can be quicker by car, but the time spent parking in busy car parks makes driving longer. A lot of routes do exist but people in cars do not see the possible alternatives. These routes could have timing as well as distance so people can see how quick journeys can be.
  • Encourage commuters with buddy schemes and user groups, so people can cycle together and encourage & help each other.
  • Have pools of loan bicycles and e-bikes to encourage people to swap from cars either for commuting or for inter-site travel. They could even include cargo bikes for larger loads
The biggest thing to get people riding to work is infrastructure. It should be noted that several large NHs organisations in London have expressed strong support for the proposed new segregated cycleways. NHS organisations are in a strong place to lobby local authorities to provide better & safer infra to and from NHS sites, both for staff and visitors.

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