Department of Health: Be Active, Be Healthy, but don’t walk to our offices


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Department of Health: Be Active, Be Healthy, but don't walk to our offices

Posted 11 February 2009 16:42 by martin

The Department of Health has today published its physical activity strategy for England – 'Be Active, Be Healthy: A plan for getting the nation moving'.

It's impressive stuff. An Olympics 'Legacy Action Plan' sets a new cross-government target for 2 million more adults active by 2012.  That is to say, those aged 16+ achieving three sessions of at least 30 minutes of at least moderate intensity activity per week.

There are some astonishing figures that underpin this strategy.  The report states that estimates for the annual costs to the NHS as a result of physical inactivity are between £1 billion and £1.8 billion.  In addition the costs of lost productivity to the wider economy have been estimated at around £5.5 billion from sickness absence and £1 billion from premature death of people of working age.  Total = up to £8.3 billion.

At a Primary Care Trust (PCT) level, the average healthcare cost of physical inactivity is estimated to be £5 million annually, and with some surprising geographic disparities:  For Calderdale PCT the total cost/100,000 population is about £0.5 million, while for Wakefield District PCT it is nearly £3 million.

There are also wide regional variations in physical activity.  40% of men in the North East take less than 30 minutes of activity one day per week, while in the South West that figure drops to 24%.

The report is full of good ideas for getting us moving more.  There are strategies, plans, pilots, alliances, consortia, incentives, enablers, partnerships, targets – you name it, they're in here.  But it also recognises that sometimes you only need a 'nudge' to prompt a change in behaviour.

So how good is the DH at nudging?

A great way to encourage people to walk to work, events and meetings is to provide good information on walking directions in the 'how to find us' section of your website.

But if you look at the office locations section of the DH website, what do you find?  A few maps, and that's it.  You're basically left to work it out for yourself.

But imagine how much more helpful this could be, with estimated walking times from key mainline stations to each office, e.g:

London Bridge Station to Wellington House (17 mins at a fast pace) or

Victoria Station to Richmond House (16 mins)

Leeds Station to Quarry House (12 mins)

Be Active, Be Healthy states that “we will encourage and support the NHS to become an exemplar for the promotion of healthy active workplaces across the public sector”.

Well a good starting point would be to include high quality walking information at the top of every government website's 'how to find us' section.

If the government can't get a simple, almost zero cost, measure like this right, you have to fear for the rest of the strategy.

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