CTC's Workplace Challenge is recommended by NICE
CTC's Workplace Challenge is recommended by NICE

Physical inactivity has "roughly the same impact as smoking" says NICE, so get cycling

Boost public health by getting more people cycling, so says major new guidance from NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. NICE calls on local authorities, businesses and the health sector to help increase physical activity.

NICE has noted that only around a third of adults are physically active enough to benefit their health, while the amount of time spend walking or cycling has fallen over the last 15 years, from almost 13 minutes per day to 11 in 2007. 

Chair of the group which produced the guidance, Dr Harry Rutter, said that the impact of physical inactivity on health was similar to that of smoking and called on councils to make the changes necessary to increase active travel.

We face a wide range of problems in England's towns and cities; most people do not get enough physical activity, our roads are congested and polluted, and we need to reduce our carbon emissions. This guidance addresses ways to increase walking and cycling for transport and recreation. If implemented, it has the potential to improve the quality of life for large numbers of people, now and in the future." 

Dr Harry Rutter, Strategic and Scientific Advisor to the National Obesity Observatory

The guidance recommends a set of actions required from health bodies, local authorities, businesses, schools and community groups to increase walking and cycling levels to boost public health.

Indeed, the approach taken by NICE is similar to that suggested by CTC in describing Cycletopia - what's needed is not one single approach but a wide range of activities, infrastructure and other changes to enhance the status of cycling throughout society.

Although the scope of the guidance was restricted to packages of promotional measures, it acknowledges the importance of improving the physical environment to make walking and cycling safer and easier than motorised alternatives. Guidance on the physical changes required to support active travel was published several years ago by NICE.

CTC gave oral evidence to NICE earlier in the year, recommending the workplace challenge as a means of substantially increasing cycling. Recommendations to local authorities suggest they "implement town-wide programmes to promote cycling for both transport and recreational purposes", including led rides, cycle hire schemes, workplace challenges and schemes targeted at children and families. 

We could make a real impact on the growing public health crisis if councils, businesses and schools followed this guidance and funded the sorts of schemes that get people cycling. CTC's workplace challenge and Bike Club projects have shown that promotional campaigns can achieve cost-effective shifts in behaviour in the short-term. 

Gordon Seabright, CTC Chief Executive

Schemes to promote and inspire cycling have been found to be consistently cost-effective.  With budgets falling, the more expensive measures to make changes to the physical environment may become harder to afford, which may mean that the effectiveness of behaviour change programmes are more limited than they might otherwise have been.

The guidance also notes the importance of other policy matters, such as the need to reduce concerns over the safety of cycling (especially by comparing them with the much higher risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle); to improve the awareness of other road users of the needs of cyclists; to enforce traffic law; and to introduce measures that reduce the speed and volume of motor traffic and which reallocate space to cyclists and pedestrians.

From April 2013 local authorities will take over the lead on public health, with budgets to improve health disbursed through Health and Wellbeing Boards. It is expected that this will give guidance such as this a much stronger chance of being implemented.


Chris Peck