Natural England
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Green makes you lean!

Natural England launches ‘Natural Health Service’ focused on health benefits of green spaces - Major expansion in health walks announced - New research reinforces evidence of link between lack of access to open spaces and obesity.

In the face of projections suggesting that nine out of 10 adults could be overweight or obese by 2050, Natural England today launched its “Natural Health Service” which calls for a step-change in the way that people are given access to green spaces and the ways in which outdoor activity programmes are supported by GPs.

Dr Helen Phillips, Natural England’s Chief Executive, said: “For decades, green spaces have been left out of the equation of urban planning and healthcare provision and we are living with the consequences in the form of rising levels of obesity and related diseases. Being out, about and active is not a luxury but needs to be a fundamental part of how we live. Prioritising the development of easily accessible green spaces and making outdoor activity a core part of health programmes could transform our nation’s health and save billions in expenditure on public healthcare.”

Dr Helen Phillips also announced the findings of the latest research from the Universities of Bristol and East Anglia which shows that - even after taking account of socioeconomic variations - people living more than 11/4 miles away from a park were less likely to be physically active and 27% more likely to be overweight or obese. The findings reinforce earlier research conducted by Glasgow and St Andrew’s Universities, which found that people who live near to green spaces live longer.

Poul Christensen, Acting Chair of Natural England, continued: “The evidence is becoming increasingly clear that the postcode lottery of access to green space is an important driver behind the differing patterns of the nation’s health. The Natural Health Service programme highlights that providing easy access to green space is one of the most important and cost effective health initiatives we can make”.

Accompanying the Manifesto launch, the Department of Health joined Natural England in announcing an expansion of Natural England’s Walking the Way to Health programme. Health Walks already form an important part of Natural England’s health and access activities, with over 2,000 walks taking place every week and more than 37,000 volunteer walk leaders trained so far. Natural England is looking to enable around 200,000 more people to take part in the ‘Walking the Way to Health” initiative and Natural England is hoping to quadruple the number of people walking regularly for their health by the 2012 Olympics.

Public Health Minister, Gillian Merron, said: "Walking is a great way to get physically active - it's fun, it's free and it's accessible to young and old alike, all across the country. I'm thrilled that Natural England's Walking for Health scheme will be working with the Government's Change4Life campaign to expand the scheme and get more people walking, more often."

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: “Green spaces are good for us. People living close to parks are more physically active and less likely to be overweight or obese. Our public parks, woodlands and countryside give us an opportunity to improve our health and wellbeing. Everyone should take the chance to enjoy the outdoors to get fit and appreciate the natural environment.”

Poul Christensen, Acting Chair of Natural England, concluded: “Today’s announcement underlines the importance that is being attached to outdoor activity as a means of addressing the long term health issues the nation is facing. Green spaces need to be easily accessible by everyone and we should recognise them for what they are - a Natural Health Service with the potential to transform our health and wellbeing”.

Notes to Editors

For further information or interviews please contact Beth Rose at Natural England's press office on: 0300 060 1405 or 07900 608 052 or beth.rose@naturalengland.org.uk

The Natural Health Service Manifesto

Natural England’s Natural Health Service manifesto is calling for the following:

  • To increase the number of households that are within five minutes’ walk of an area of green space covering at least two hectares about the size of two football pitches – the benchmark set by Natural England’s Access to Natural Green Space Standard (ANGST). The organisation is encouraging people to test the quality of their local parks by using its Greenspace Checker web questionnaire. By answering three simple questions anyone can get a measure of their access to green space: for more information go to our natural health service pages.

  • To make sure every GP or community nurse is able to refer patients to an approved health walk or outdoor activity programme targets for delivering these services are set by all primary care trusts and local authorities. Health professionals or members of the public wanting to know more about health walk schemes can find their nearest group on the Walking the Way to Health website

Walking the Way to Health

Natural England’s Walking the way to Health encourages people to enjoy local natural spaces and benefit their health by taking part in health walks. Natural England is the largest national body promoting and setting the standards for led health walks, supporting over 525 local health walk schemes.

One Million Children Outdoors

In April 2009, Natural England launched its ‘One Million Children Outdoors’ programme which aims to introduce a million children to the natural world over the next three years. In its first year, the programme aims to:

  • Double the number of farm visits by school-aged children to 100,000, funded through green farming schemes

  • Double the number of children participating in educational visits on National Nature Reserves to 60,000

  • Support projects funded through the £23 million Access to Nature grant scheme that aim to connect children, particularly from deprived urban communities, with the natural world.

Research from the Universities of Bristol and East Anglia:

Original research by Melvyn Hillsdon1, Andy Jones2 and Emma Coombes for Natural England

1Department Exercise and Health Sciences, University of Bristol

2School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Research Summary by David Stone, Natural England.

Current green space research tends to focus on the proximity and accessibility of physical activity facilities and public open space. Overall, the evidence indicates that improving access to good quality green space in urban areas may be a promising means of increasing physical activity. However, uncertainty exists regarding the relationship between green space access, the frequency of green space use and physical activity. Furthermore, the extent to which relationships between green space and physical activity vary by population sub-group is unknown, and as the bulk of the literature is from the US or Australia. Natural England commissioned a research team from University of Bristol and University of East Anglia to undertake independent studies on this relationship in the UK.

Two studies were produced with the aim of providing new evidence on the association between both perceived and objectively measured access to green space, frequency of green space use, physical activity levels, and the probability of being overweight or obese by combining information from the Bristol Quality of Life in your Neighbourhood Survey, with a comprehensive database of green space locations and characteristics within the city.

Conclusions

People who perceive easy access to safe green spaces report higher green space use, more regular physical activity and lower risk of obesity. Therefore, access to safe and convenient green space is likely to be an important environmental factor in public health efforts aimed to promote physical activity and reduce obesity.

When access was measured objectively trends were apparent whereby more frequent green space users were more physical active and less likely to be overweight or obese. The robustness of these associations was tested by controlling for a wide range of neighbourhood characteristics. Subsequent associations were mostly attenuated but persistent, except for those with bodyweight which generally disappeared. This may reflect the particularly varied nature of the personal, societal, and environmental influences on weight.

These studies have provided new evidence that good access to urban green spaces is associated with higher use, higher physical activity levels, and a lower likelihood of being overweight or obese. For further information on the research please contact Natural England’s press office.

Research from Glasgow and St Andrews:

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