The BMA, the body that represents the UK’s doctors, has urged the government to spend £20 per head a year on active travel such as cycling and walking to improve the nation’s health.
In its report Steps to increase physical activity levels in the UK, which was published last week, the organisation highlights the benefits of exercise on physical and mental wellbeing.
However, it also highlights concerns held by doctors over people not doing enough physical activity and the impact that has on their health, and that of the population as a whole.
“Providing the opportunity for everybody to be physically active is an important part of a comprehensive approach to improving the health of the population,” the BMA says.
“Despite some recognition of the contribution that physical activity can make to a range of health outcomes, our analysis shows that it is not being prioritised in government policymaking.
“In particular, we are concerned by the lack of protection for physical activity in the school curriculum, the low spending on active travel and cuts to budgets for open spaces and recreation facilities.”
The BMA is urging the government to focus four areas “in order to adequately prioritise physical activity.” Those are:
Increase the cross-departmental budget for active travel to £20 per head.
Cycling and walking is undervalued and underfunded in the UK.
Increased investment in active travel could help narrow socio-economic inequalities in physical activity levels, as those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to use active travel than those from more affluent backgrounds.
Provide local government with the resource to reverse budget cuts to open spaces and recreation facilities, with targeted additional investment in the most deprived local areas.
Open spaces, recreation and sport budgets are being cut across the country.
Access to open spaces is not equal with the most deprived areas having the least green space.
People from a BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) background are most likely to use parks and open spaces.
Physical education needs to be recognised and protected as an essential part of the school curriculum.
Despite the many benefits of physical education in schools, it is not being protected or prioritised.
Some schools are resorting to selling off playing fields to raise revenue.
The NHS should act as an ‘anchor institution’ to encourage and facilitate active travel and set an example for other employers.
The NHS can use its role as an anchor institution in communities to exert significant positive influence on promoting physical activity.
NHS sites should encourage active travel to reduce journeys by vehicle and improve staff and visitor wellbeing.
The BMA’s appeal for extra funding for active travel comes in the same month that the government admitted that it needed to double spend on cycling to meet its 2025 target of doubling cycling from 800 million travel ‘stages’ to 1.6 billion – although even if that happened, it would be well short of the £20 a head being asked for.
Responding to a Transport Select Committee report on its Cycling and Walking Investment strategy, the Department for Transport said: “Interim results from the investment models indicate that annual investment per head in England is likely to need to at least double if the cycling aim is to be achieved in 2025.”