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Chief Medical Officer advocates safer active travel

5th April 2014

Chief Medical Officer annual report

British Cycling welcomed a report by Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), published on 27th March 2014. In her annual report on the state of the public's health, she highlighted the danger of 'normalising' being overweight. Around two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or obese. (Only 7% of adults were obese in 1980, compared with 25% today). Overweight and obesity are associated with a number of diseases, including heart disease and some cancers. 

The CMO identified sedentary lifestyles as one of the causes of obesity. She stressed the benefits of active travel (walking and cycling), which is good for our health. More should be done to make it safer, which will encourage more people to travel in this way. She says in her summary (pp16-17):

'I believe that encouraging more people to engage in active travel, such as walking and cycling, is crucial to improving the health of the nation and reducing the prevalence of obesity. I am therefore concerned to see that between 2003 and 2012, the average number of miles travelled on foot per person in Great Britain has falled by 10%, and that cycling accounted for less than 1% of all miles travelled in 2012. However, this national figure conceals some considerable variation: in 2012, 30% of journeys to work by Cambridge residents were by bicycle, with 47% cycling at least once per week.

In order to improve uptake, we need to improve safety. The relative risks associated with journeys by active travel methods are unacceptably high and must be reduced. Compared with travelling the same distance by car, the risk of death from travelling one kilometre on foot or by bicycle is more than 17 times higher. The risk of serious injury for each kilometre travelled is almost 16 times higher on foot than by car, and 21 times higher on a bicycle than by car.

An integrated approach to improving safety for all road users must be taken. The high number of journeys undertaken by bicycle in Cambridge may be partly linked to the extensive network of cycling routes separated from traffic: there is limited evidence that physically separating cycle networks from motorised traffic may reduce risks for cyclists. It is important, however, that we also protect pedestrians. An improved understanding of methods to improve road safety for all modes of transport and how these can be applied to the road system in England would be beneficial.'

Some highlights of the State of the Public's Health can be found here


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