A global health challenge needs global and local solutions

By Dr Andy Cope,
people walking and cycling

Walking and cycling activities are easy to adopt and can be built into everyday schedules

Sustrans is supporting plans by the World Health Organisation to develop a Global Action Plan on Physical Activity.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published plans for the development of a Global Action Plan on Physical Activity in May 2017, in the form of a 'zero draft'. 

It will "include the proposed vision, strategic objectives and set of actions and interventions for all relevant stakeholders, which when collectively implemented, will increase levels of physical activity and improve the physical, mental and social wellbeing of all peoples”.

The draft will be made available by WHO for web consultation from mid-July, and after a series of consultations, the aim is to have a final draft by May 2018.

The potential for public health benefits from walking and cycling is huge

There are many examples of the public health benefits of walking and cycling, making a strong case for investment.

Fit for Life is a synthesis of academic research findings on the impact of walking and cycling infrastructure investment with findings from Sustrans' own monitoring and evaluation. Research into a cohort of 84 UK-wide schemes provides strong evidence of a public health impact.

A recent academic study into the association between active commuting and the incidence of cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality draws a very clear link between cycle commuting and significant health improvements. it concluded that initiatives to encourage and support active commuting could reduce the risk of death and the burden of important chronic conditions by 45%.

A new summary of research evidence from Public Health England, Spatial Planning for Health, provides an evidence resource for planning and designing healthier places. This includes an assessment of the strength of available evidence for a number of policy areas, including transport. In particular, it presents Sustrans’ Connect2 programme as a case study. Connect2 created new routes generating new walking and cycling trips in the longer term. The project also highlighted that to local people, the visibility of schemes seems to be an important mechanism for driving use.

A blog published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine explains the development of the Bangkok Declaration on Physical Activity for Global Health and Sustainable Development.

The International Society for Physical Activity and Health issued the Bangkok Declaration in November 2016.

The declaration highlights eight of the of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that physical activity can contribute to:

SDG 3: Good health and wellbeing
SDG 4: Quality education
SDG 5: Gender equity
SDG 10: Reduced inequalities 
SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 Climate action
SDG 15: Life on land
SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Walking and cycling features heavily in the Bangkok Declaration 

The greatest public health benefits are realised when inactive or only slightly active people increase their levels of activity, as there is limited benefit from active people becoming more active.

Because walking and cycling are easy to adopt – they require little equipment or preparation - and they can be built into everyday schedules. Walking and cycling activities are more straightforward to engage with by inactive and less active groups (relative to eg gym membership or sports participation), and the potential for the contribution that they can make to increasing levels of physical activity worldwide is very considerable.

The premise of the Bangkok Declaration is to help more people from more sectors engage in elevating physical activity as a local, national and global priority.

The Bangkok Declaration makes recommendations to the World Health Organisation (and to wider agencies and initiatives) that the authors hope will shape the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity.

These recommendations align well with the Sustrans agenda, and we are delighted to offer our support to the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity by becoming a signatory to the Bangkok declaration.

We see our local solutions as crucial to supporting the global challenges of physical inactivity.

We hope that our support will encourage others to engage with the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity, and to respond to the consultation via the International Society for Physical Activity and Health (ISPAH).