The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has updated its guidance on how to prevent obesity. One of the main recommendations is to make cycling a part of daily life to help prevent low energy expenditure.
Two thirds of UK adults are now classed as being either obese or overweight and NICE estimates that if current trends continue, obesity could cost society £50bn a year by 2050. The new guidance – an update on the 2006 obesity guideline – places great emphasis on increasing physical activity as a means of prevention, even if only small changes are made.
The guidance instructs health professionals to make clear to patients the benefits of gradually increasing physical activity and also highlights that such advice is just as relevant to those who are of a healthy weight as those who are overweight.
Population studies suggest that people's average weight increases gradually through life, but one of the key messages is that weight gain in adulthood is not inevitable. “It is possible to avoid gaining weight with age by being physically active and eating a diet based on foods and drinks with a lower energy density,” it reads.
To combat sedentary lifestyles, there is great emphasis on building activity into daily life, developing routines and habits that gradually increase the amount and intensity of activity a person does. The guidance suggests making brisk walking or cycling the form of travel to school, work or other local destinations and also taking opportunities to increase activity during leisure time, including during breaks at work or school.
Last month, NICE told local authorities that they should "Create, protect and manage safe spaces for physical activity and plan local facilities and services to ensure they are accessible on foot or by bicycle."
The briefing, entitled Tackling the causes of premature mortality also came out in favour of 20mph zones, saying they “could lead to a 100% return on investment in the first 12 months.”
2012 guidance on promoting walking and cycling cited a 2009 study on activity levels which found that 61 per cent of men and 71 per cent of women in England aged 16 and over did not meet the national recommended physical activity levels of the time (at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity at least five times a week).
The study also found that activity levels declined as people got older. 53 per cent of men aged 16–24 were sufficiently active, but that was down to 16 per cent at 65-plus. The level of activity among women was also considerably lower after the age of 65, albeit from a lower base – 28-36 per cent of younger women to 12 per cent of over-65s.