National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
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Improve community health through walking, cycling and behaviour change

Improving the health of local populations through encouraging more walking and cycling and by challenging unhealthy behaviours are among the aims of NICE's latest set of local government public health briefings.

Physical inactivity poses a major public health risk, and is associated with the increased likelihood of a range of chronic conditions including coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers.

Figures show that around 65 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women in England do not achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, as recommended by official guidelines.

Chronic conditions are also a major cause of death and disability, and are closely linked to lifestyle choices such as smoking, unhealthy diets, low levels of physical activity and harmful alcohol use.

From April this year councils in England will be taking on the new role of improving the public health of their communities, and NICE has been developing a range of public health briefings to help them with this.

This latest set, published yesterday, aims to improve the health of local populations by increasing physical activity through walking and cycling, and through changing unhealthy behaviours.

NICE says that increasing the number of people who regularly walk or cycle can help meet multiple aims local authorities may have, including reducing air population, creating an environment that supports local economies, and providing spaces to support social inclusion and community cohesion.

Summarising recommendations from its pathway on walking and cycling, the briefing recommends addressing barriers to walking and cycling such as reducing road danger and the perception of road danger.

Local strategy, policy and planning, and planning applications for new developments should support walking and cycling to prioritise the need for people to be physically active as a routing part of their daily life.

Local programmes should be put in place to support walking and cycling. These could include community challenges, workplace challenges, and activities aimed at children and families.

NICE's public health briefing on behaviour change summarises NICE's recommendations for local authorities and partner organisations on general principles that should be used when considering the commissioning, planning, content and evaluation of initiatives to support behaviour change at both individual and community-wide levels.

The briefing includes principles and an action plan aimed at increasing the likelihood of improving population health.

NICE says that plans to change health-related behaviour should be informed by the circumstances in which people live, especially the socioeconomic and cultural context. Barriers to change should be assessed, such as lack of access to affordable opportunities for physical change.

Furthermore, NICE recommends that local government should assess potential barriers to change, such as a lack of access to affordable opportunities for physical activity.

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at NICE, said: "We're pleased to publish the third batch of Local Government Public Health Briefings which summarise our main guidance recommendations relating to walking and cycling, as well as our advice on behaviour change.

"Addressing both of these issues will help local authorities meet their forthcoming statutory duties to improve the health of their communities."

"The examples of good practice given in the briefings, along with quick facts and figures, make a case for action."

He added: "We hope that this practical advice will help local government to make best use of limited funds, with the potential to save resources while improving the health of local people."

Local Transport Minister Norman Baker said: "I welcome NICE's briefing for local government on walking and cycling, to support ways of improving community health through increasing physical activity.

"Making it easier for people to engage in active travel also benefits the local environment by reducing the amount of traffic on our roads.

"This summary, which includes the guidance published last November, will make the key recommendations accessible to a range of professionals across transport, health and other disciplines, helping local government to develop effective policies, plans and activities to promote walking and cycling."

NICE has a range of topics for public health briefings currently in development, which include return on investment, obesity and contraceptive services.

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