Leave your car at home & lose 7kg of flab, says new study

People who switched from driving to work to using public transport, cycling or walking lost significant amounts of weight, a new study from the University of East Anglia has found.

Switching from a car to walking, cycling, or using public transport was associated with an average reduction in BMI of 0.32 kg/m2 after taking account of other influential factors – equivalent to a difference of around 1kg a person, on average.

Philip Insall, Director of Health for Sustrans, said:

“With one in six deaths being linked to physical inactivity, lack of exercise is as dangerous as smoking.

“This is why the new Government needs to urgently invest in walking and cycling. Making our roads safer so that people feel able to get out of their cars and onto bikes will have a radical impact on obesity rates. Creating a happier, healthier population which places less strain on an already stretched NHS.

“We know that people who walk and cycle short trips have very much lower rates of disease and premature death. So it’s vital to invest in infrastructure that allows people to walk and cycle in safety.”

The study’s lead researcher Adam Martin, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said:

“It is well established that being overweight or obese is linked to a wide range of diseases, most notably type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke.

“This study highlights the potential to contribute to reducing the average weight of the population by helping commuters build regular physical activity into their daily routines through walking, cycling and using public transport on their journey to work.”

The research team, from UEA, the University of Cambridge and the University of York, based their findings on the responses of more than 4000 adults in three annual waves of the British Household Panel Survey collected between 2004 and 2007.

Commuters reported their usual main mode of travel to work each year, and their height and weight in the first and third years. The researchers then used a series of analyses to see if changes in mode of transport were linked to changes in weight over time.
While the link between commuting and weight may seem intuitive, it has rarely been tested in a longitudinal study using data from a representative national survey in this way.

Martin said: “We found that switching from the car to walking, cycling or public transport is associated with an average reduction of 0.32 BMI, which equates to a difference of about 1 kg for the average person.

“This might sound like a relatively small proportion of their total weight, but we also found that the longer the commute, the stronger the association. For those with a commute of more than 30 minutes, there was an average reduction of 2.25 BMI units, or around 7 kg (over one stone) for the average person.”

The research team also found that switching to using a car to get to work was associated with a significant average increase of 0.34 BMI units.

Martin concluded:

“The key feature of this study is that we were able to compare changes in weight over time between commuters who had, and had not, changed how they travelled to work. However it is an observational study, so we can’t draw definitive conclusions about cause and effect.

“Combined with other potential health, economic, and environmental benefits associated with walking, cycling and public transport, these findings add to the case for interventions to support a larger proportion of commuters taking up these more sustainable forms of transport.”

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‘Impact of changes in mode of travel to work on changes in body mass index: evidence from the British Household Panel Survey’, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, May 8th.

Bikeability linked to more children cycling to school. Again.

Children who complete Bikeability cycle training are significantly more likely to cycle to school than untrained children, says a new report commissioned by The Association of Bikeability Schemes (TABS). After cycle training children also have significantly higher levels of confidence cycling on the road, adds the report. This year’s Bikeability School Travel Survey report adds to the research carried out for last year’s report.

In 2013, a study commissioned by Cambridgeshire County Council found that school children who have undertaken Bikeability cycle training use their bicycles more frequently than untrained children of the same age. This was based on a survey of 224 children in four Cambridge primary schools. It was found that Bikeability training leads to an uplift of 12.6 percent in the amount of children who cycle to school. Training also leads to an 11 percent increase in the amount of cycling children do with their families away from school.

This year’s report is based on 1,345 survey responses from Year 5 and Year 6 pupils, collected from 25 primary schools across seven English local authorities between March and June 2014.

Survey data by the University of Plymouth compared responses from trained and untrained children in Cambridgeshire with metropolitan and rural local authorities elsewhere. The survey results suggest Bikeability may have a bigger impact on children’s cycling in areas with lower overall levels of cycling.

With regard to cycling to places other than school, the survey evidence suggests that compared with untrained children, trained children cycle to destinations and with people offering greater opportunities for independent mobility, such going out to play with friends or going to the park or recreation ground, the most popular cycling destinations for children.

The survey results suggest trained children enjoy cycling more than untrained children, especially girls who have received cycle training. Trained and untrained children both said that cycling would be more enjoyable if they were allowed to cycle more.

Dr Paul Hewson, associate professor in statistics at Plymouth University, said:

“Compared with untrained children, the survey results show trained children reported they cycle more often, cycle more to school, cycle more on the road, cycle with more confidence on the road, and enjoy cycling more. The pattern of these associations provides reassurance that most children filled in the survey forms carefully during class time, as for example children who reported that they enjoy cycling more are likely to be both more confident and cycle more.”

Dr Michael Frearson, director at The Association of Bikeability Schemes, said:

“The survey evidence confirms what many schools and parents already know: children love cycling and want to cycle more. The results also suggest Bikeability does a good job giving children the skills and confidence they need to cycle on today’s roads. Arguably, effective cycle training mitigates some of the risks children and adults face when they cycle on the road. However, the survey results also suggest that more than training alone is needed to get more people cycling more often.”

TABS currently has 110 members who together train more than 120,000 children each year.

To get more Brits on bikes the Prime Minister should knock departmental heads together, says report

The report for the Get Britain Cycling parliamentary inquiry calls for political leadership to effect change.

A parliamentary report on the future of cycling in Britain calls for roadspace reallocation and more cash for cycling. The report – published today – also calls for a national cycling champion to lead a drive for 10 per cent of all journeys in Britain to be by bicycle by 2025. More of the transport budget should be spent on supporting cycling, at an initial rate of at least £10 per person per year, increasing as cycle levels increase, says the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group.

The report – sponsored by The Times and the Bicycle Association – is based on the six week ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry, which started to hear evidence in January. The 16-page summary report also calls for 20mph speed limits to become standard in urban areas and lower speed limits on many rural roads. It also says that all children should be given the chance to learn the skills of on-road cycling, at primary and secondary school.

The Times’ cyclesafe campaign led to the creation of the inquiry and the newspaper is today seeking to capitalise on the report’s launch to get 100,000 signatures on a petition on the Government’s petition website. This may then trigger a debate in parliament.

The inquiry heard evidence from over 100 individuals and organisations, including cycling organisations, the Automobile Association, and a wide range of government departments and ministers.

More cycling will lead to reduced congestion, environmental benefits and healthier citizens, said the report. The aim is increase cycle use from less than 2 per cent of journeys in 2011, to 10 per cent of all journeys in 2025, and 25 per cent by 2050.

For this to happen, leadership is needed right from the top, the MPs and Peers conclude. Cycling should also be considered at an earlier stage in all planning decisions, whether transport schemes or new houses or businesses and More use should be made of segregated cycle lanes, learning from the Dutch experience.

Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge and co-chair of the group, said: “Cycling has huge advantages – it is fast, safe, healthy, efficient, reliable, environmentally sound, and fun. We all benefit when people choose to cycle.

“One of the most consistent points made was that lower speed limits reduce the number and severity of collisions for both pedestrians and cyclists – we should heed that advice. It will improve safety and reduce the fear of cycling that too many feel.

“This generation of politicians has the chance to be long remembered for having a vision for cycling that includes us all. Put simply, Britain needs to re-learn how to cycle. This report sets out how this can be done.”

Ian Austin, MP for Dudley North and co-chair of the group said: “Too often, cyclists are just an afterthought. When collisions happen, the police and courts let the victims down, with sentences that do not fit the harm caused – this must be changed.

“The real test of whether something is taken seriously in Government is who leads on it – and that means the Prime Minister has to take that lead.”

Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch and vice chair of the group said: “In Hackney, strong political leadership has shown what can be done, with Hackney topping the league tables for journeys by bike in London. We now need that leadership nationally.”

Journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow said: ‘At last, Parliament is pedalling the talk and recognising the urgent need for political leadership on actions for cycling. Whichever party peader now seizes this opportunity, will reap dividends.”

The president of the Automobile Association, Edmund King, said “If the recommendations in Get Britain Cycling are followed through it should be the catalyst for change to put cycling on the front foot. We now need leadership to match this vision. Drivers and cyclists are often the same people and they should all welcome this report.”

British Cycling’s Chris Boardman, said: “The benefits of getting more people to cycle in terms of health and improving the places in which we live are clear. We need to be ambitious and set ourselves quantifiable targets to increase the number of people on bikes. Only then will we have a yardstick against which we can measure our every action and policy.”

CTC is granted charitable status

CTC’s new status as a charity has been approved by Charity Commission.

The Charity Commission for England and Wales has approved CTC’s application to become a charity.

Chair of CTC Council, David Cox said: “I’m delighted to announce that the Charity Commission has approved CTC as a registered charity. CTC is an authority on cycling matters and a vibrant grassroots organisation. Founded in 1878, our organisation has a proud record of encouraging and supporting cyclists and cycling, and as a charity CTC is in a stronger position to do what we do even better.”

CTC’s CEO Gordon Seabright said: “This is exciting news – CTC has a hugely important role to play as the champion for cycling and cyclists in the UK and the move to become a registered charity is a key milestone in strengthening that.”

Cycling agenda pushed in Parliament by Cambridge MP

Dr Julian Huppert, the LibDem MP for Cambridge, voted in at the last election, is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and an extremely keen cyclist. In a long speech on Friday he praised some of the coalition Government’s cycling policies but also expressed reservations about the scrapping of Cycling England.

Dr Huppert also talked about strict liability, SMIDSY (‘sorry, mate, I didn’t see you), an antiquated law which prevents cycle racing on public roads, and the Department for Transport’s reliance on pro-helmet messages rather than tackling the source of danger: cars.

“Many cyclists must simply feel invisible at times. Even in Cambridge, the lack of consideration shown by some motorists is shocking.

“Nearly three-quarters of people agree the idea of cycling on busy roads is frightening. That is partly because road safety policies have for too long focused on making cycling look dangerous – for instance, by advocating helmets – when we should be addressing the source of danger.
“Making our roads safer would be a positive step in encouraging those who would like to try it, but feel intimidated or frightened.”

However, according to a Cambridge newspaper, Dr Huppert’s calls for motorists to face stiffer penalties when they kill and injure cyclists has “sparked fury among motorists.” Or, to be more specific, the RAC Foundation, a spokesman from which said:

“Mr Huppert’s motives might be honourable, but rather than encouraging harmony between cyclists and drivers he risks widening the divide.

“The reality is there are reckless elements among all groups of road users.

“He is right to say tough action needs to be taken against offenders, but wrong to seek to establish a hierarchy of the supposed righteous.”

A video of Dr Huppert’s speech can be viewed below, starting at 14:32.36. The sparsely attended debate wasn’t terribly lively but Dr Huppert did receive a reply from transport minister Theresa Villiers. She did not answer all of his questions.

An edited transcript from Hansard can be read below.

Hon. Members may know that my constituency has long been at the forefront of cycling. Some 26% of its adult population cycle to their work or education-a figure comparable with the highest performing cities elsewhere in Europe. When I go to visit schools, it is always heartening to see how many pupils cycle or walk to school, although more could be done. I represent people who, for reasons topographical, historical and cultural, do not merely talk the talk, but walk the walk-or, rather, ride the bike.

Why should we encourage cycling? There are a number of reasons: it is safe, healthy, cheap, convenient, fast, reliable, clean and green. Another reason, which I have noticed increasingly as a Member of Parliament, is that cycling around my constituency allows me to see the world around me and for people to see me. In a car, one is very much separated, whereas on a bike, one is very much part of the environment. There is much to welcome in the Government’s approach to cycling and to sustainable transport generally.

Many people in Cambridge and elsewhere shared my concern about the Government’s decision to scrap Cycling England – a decision which I continue to find deeply regrettable. We were particularly concerned that Bikeability, a vital training scheme and one that has worked wonders for cycling all around the country, was under serious threat. I am very pleased and relieved that the Government have committed themselves so fully to that scheme.

There are a number of other encouragements. I was especially pleased to hear about the possibility of greater powers for local authorities over traffic signs. Can the Minister confirm that that will allow, among other things, “no entry-except cycles” signs to be used? Contraflow cycling in appropriate one-way streets affords cyclists greater access to quieter streets, avoiding busier roads and making quicker journey times possible. We in Cambridge have asked for years for permission to use those signs, but it has been a struggle with Department for Transport officials until a recent trial was allowed. The current “low-flying motorbike” sign simply is not understood by many people.

There are also some specific issues that need resolving. Could the section of the Traffic Management Act 2004 that allows for enforcement of mandatory cycle lanes be brought into force? I believe it is the only bit that has not yet been implemented. Could the law be adjusted so that the presence of a vehicle in a cycle path or on a footway be taken as evidence that it was driven there, rather than appearing magically, as seems to be assumed at the moment?

It is essential that a green thread runs through all Government policy if we are seriously to tackle climate change. We cannot rely on an occasional eye-catching idea here, an emotive piece of environmental rhetoric there, while business proceeds as usual. Local sustainable transport has a key role to play. If used correctly to support strong and well-designed bids, the [£560 million local sustainable transport fund] will have a vital role to play in shaping our communities and reducing our reliance on expensive and unsustainable transport – but the Minister will realise that that is a big if. I have several questions to raise about how the Government intend to take the scheme forward.

I am pleased that front and centre are the two policy objectives driving the Government’s approach: creating growth and cutting carbon. But as we all know, those two objectives can and do get in each other’s way at times. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify to what extent bids will be judged ultimately on cutting carbon, and to what extent on creating growth.

Perhaps the Minister might also find time to consider and address the other priorities flagged up in last year’s Cabinet Office report on urban transport, which found, interestingly, that the economic damage in cities, as a result of detriment to public health through vehicle crashes, poor air quality and physical inactivity from reduced walking and cycling, was three times greater than the effect of congestion alone, although those factors are far too often overlooked in transport decisions.

I hope the Minister and the Government will be sympathetic to the need for radical bids to reduce carbon emissions significantly, but I also believe the Department can and should do more to encourage such bids in the first place. The Department for Transport, along with the late Cycling England, produced a so-called hierarchy of solutions, which does an excellent job in establishing a cycle and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure – at least, it would do an excellent job if it was not virtually unknown among local authorities and widely flouted in practice. The Department should promote awareness of that policy among local authorities, as it is when they ignore it that we tend to see the type of cycle facilities that are often worse than useless. To take an obvious example, many local authorities still persist in creating poor quality shared-use cycle facilities on pavements, creating unnecessary conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. That is contrary to the guidance from the Department, which rightly focuses on reducing traffic volumes and speeds, redesigning junctions and reallocating road space. There clearly is a role for off-road cycle paths, but it must be good quality and not just a cheap alternative to road provision.

I welcome the Government’s guidance, although I wonder whether the Minister can give assurances that it will be put more strongly to local authorities bidding for this important fund. In particular, I take this opportunity to bang the drum for 20 mph speed limits in residential and shopping streets. They make a large difference to safety for children, cyclists and pedestrians but only a small difference to car travel times.

This is part of a wider point: a commitment to reducing road danger is needed. Nearly three quarters of people agree that the idea of cycling on busy roads is frightening, partly because road safety policies have for too long focused on making cycling look dangerous – for example, by excessive advocacy of cycle helmets – when we should be addressing the source of the danger. Slowing traffic is one way to do that; reducing traffic volume is another; and more cyclists lead to safer cycling.

Perhaps the Minister will also consider prosecution, sentencing, liability and awareness issues. In far too many accidents, the ready-made excuse, “I just didn’t see him, guv,” is invoked and too readily accepted. We must encourage the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to be more ambitious in the choice of charges and the decision to prosecute, so that judges and juries can decide whether an excuse is good enough. Driving with a reckless disregard for the safety of fellow road users should be treated very seriously. Will the Minister consider the use of proportionate liability? Putting the default onus on the more dangerous vehicle in a collision would protect cars from trucks, bikes from cars and pedestrians from bikes.

The frequent use of the “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you,” or SMIDSY, excuse also points to a lack of awareness among drivers. Many cyclists must simply feel invisible at times. Even in Cambridge, the lack of consideration shown by some motorists is shocking. Will the Minister consider including a cycling and pedestrian awareness element in the driving test, for example, that goes beyond the occasional video clip during the theory test?

Taking away the stigma attached to cycling by making our roads safer would be a positive step in encouraging those who would like to try it but feel intimidated or frightened. That would accompany the successful attempts by organisations, such as the Cyclists’ Touring Club, to encourage more cycling, particularly to work. Its workplace cycle challenge in Cambridge succeeded in encouraging 132 new cyclists on to the road in just two weeks. The cycle-to-work scheme, which was introduced by the last
Government, deserves genuine praise. I should be interested to know whether the Government have any plans to build on the scheme’s success and to help to resolve the many concerns about what happens to the bike at the end of the scheme.

It is very important to encourage councils and businesses to provide the small essentials that make the difference to journeys, including convenient, safe and sheltered cycle parks at workplaces and town centres and things such as showers and lockers at work, so that people can travel and more easily be fresh for a day’s work.

May I briefly draw the Minister’s attention to problems faced by the cycle-racing community, which has been championed by the hon. Member for Dudley North? Will she support the ongoing work between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and her Department to redraft the outdated Cycle Racing on Highways Regulations 1960? Will she try to facilitate appropriate traffic signs for road cycling? Will she review the anomaly that motor rallies are allowed to take place on bridleways, but cycle racing is not?

The last time that I spoke on transport, the Under-Secretary of State described my speech as something of a wish list. I hope that I have succeeded in reining myself in a little more this time, although my natural enthusiasm for the subject sometimes overtakes me.

I shall finish on a suitably austere note: other cycling enthusiasts have noticed that the Government say in their sustainable transport White Paper that they plan to spend more money on developing their own cycle journey planner. Perhaps in the spirit of the big society, I point the Minister and her Department to the CycleStreets website, which already provides such a service, reliably and efficiently, and without requiring millions of pounds of Government subsidy. The website was developed by two of my constituents, both avid cyclists who are very much involved with the excellent Cambridge cycling campaign, and cost a total of about £40,000 to cover the whole country. I hope the Minister will consider the value for money of supporting and utilising their work, rather than inventing a new wheel. I look forward to her comments.

Transport Theresa Villiers replied:

I strongly agree that cycling generates important social, environmental and health benefits. The role it can play in relieving congestion, improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions is clear and well accepted. Regular cycling has other important benefits, in particular for health, reducing by half many chronic illnesses, including heart disease. Cycling can also help us to address the obesity problems that cost the NHS and wider society around £20 billion annually.

As well as the wider benefits, we should not lose sight of the simple truth that cycling can be a great way to get around – a convenient and low-cost way to make short journeys. The key question is how we can lift the barriers that deter people from regular cycling. The coalition agreement makes a commitment to supporting sustainable travel, including walking and cycling. The Department for Transport will be investing £58 million in cycling over the current financial year. Cycling receives further Government support through local transport plan funding to local authorities and the DFT grant to Transport for London.

In answer to the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge about the relative importance to be placed on creating growth and cutting carbon, the answer is that weight will be given to both, taking into account each scheme’s overall merits. He will realise that in many cases similar actions can both generate economic benefits and cut carbon.

It will be up to local authorities to decide what goes into their bids, but the case for cycling is so compelling that I am certain many councils will want to include cycling projects in their bids to the fund. We therefore expect cycling programmes to attract substantial support from the new fund. We are strongly encouraging local authorities to work with voluntary and private sector partners when putting forward their bids. That will open up opportunities for the involvement of groups such as CTC, Sustrans and the Campaign for Better Transport.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, our first commitment in relation to the local sustainable transport fund is on cycle training. The coalition has confirmed Bikeability funding for the remainder of the Parliament, confounding some of the anxieties created by the abolition of Cycling England. Learning to cycle safely and confidently on today’s roads is a valuable life skill and a key part of our strategy to promote cycling. The national cycle training scheme currently receives funding of £11 million, providing up to 275,000 Bikeability training places. Earlier this week, we announced a further £11 million for Bikeability training in 2011-12.

To get first hand experience of Bikeability, I decided to have a go myself. I very much enjoyed being taught the level 1 and 2 courses by David Dansky of Cycle Training UK. At the end of the lesson, I certainly felt my hand signals had improved and were much more positive.

Recently published research demonstrates how highly Bikeability is regarded by parents and the children who take part in the scheme. Children reported to the survey that, after the training, they generally felt safer and more confident when riding on the road. It is clear that parents feel more confident allowing their children to ride on the road, because the child’s ability to judge risks will have been strengthened by the training they have received.

To complement our education programmes, we will set aside £13 million from the fund in 2011-12 for links to school, bike club and walking to school initiatives, delivering additional cycle parking and infrastructure changes for safer links to schools-something my hon. Friend mentioned.

In preparing their bids for money from the new fund, local authorities might well wish to emulate the approach taken in the cycling demonstration town programme, which has delivered impressive results. Darlington managed to double cycling in four years. In the first six towns that took part, there was an average increase of 27% in the number of people cycling regularly. Assessment of the programme indicates that the congestion, health and other benefits-benefits of the sort that my hon. Friend mentioned, to do with air pollution and the public realm-generated by the programme were three times greater than the amount of money spent on the programme.

My hon. Friend expressed concerns about problems integrating cycling journeys with public transport. Again, that could prove another fruitful source of ideas for local authority bids to the local sustainable transport fund. The bike ‘n’ ride demonstration projects running over recent years are a model worth considering for the future. They have improved facilities for cyclists at rail stations run by South West Trains, Merseyrail, Northern and Virgin Trains. Hundreds of additional cycle parking facilities have been provided at stations run by those train operators, together with hire facilities at Waterloo, Richmond and Southport. That project complements wider Department for Transport work to support the establishment of cycle hubs at key rail stations, the hub in Leeds being the first to open, last September.

The announcement that I made earlier this week on a move to longer rail franchises will give train operators stronger incentives to invest in improving stations. That, of course, could include the provision of cycle parking. Chiltern Railways is an example of a longer franchise; it was able to deliver a considerable uplift in cycle parking places, but as we judge the bids coming in for rail franchises, we will certainly look at the ideas that bidders and train operators have for improving linkages with cycling, and for making it easier to integrate cycling into the rail system.

The Department continues to monitor the voluntary station travel plan pilot schemes, which can provide clear benefits to cyclists as part of efforts to integrate rail successfully with other sustainable modes of transport. My hon. Friend highlighted the cycle to work scheme; it continues to provide tax incentives that enable employers to help those who wish to switch to commuting to work by bicycle. A concern here is the judgment in the AstraZeneca case; the Government are currently looking at how that case might impact on the scheme to see whether we can resolve any resulting difficulties.