This statistical study looks into the potential savings which increasing levels of walking and cycling in urban areas (i.e. reduced use of private cars and presumably motorised public transport) could bring about purely as a result of positive health outcomes. The authors estimate the potential effect of increased walking and cycling in urban England and Wales on costs to the National Health Service (NHS) arising from seven diseases which are associated with physical inactivity:
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Cerebrovascular disease.
- Breast cancer.
- Colorectal cancer.
- Ischaemic heart disease.
Over 20 years, projected reductions in the prevalence of such diseases as a result of increased physical activity could lead to savings of roughly £17 billion (in 2010 prices) for the NHS, even adjusting for increasing road traffic injuries when people are removed from the relative safety of their cars. Higher savings could be achieved after 20 years, since there is a lag in the putative benefits of exercise for diseases such as dementia. Savings projections are invariably positive, although vary with different assumptions about the time lag between any increase in active travel and changes in health outcomes. On balance, it is concluded that increasing levels of walking and cycling in urban settings could reduce costs for the NHS, thereby permitting greater freedom concerning how government expenditure is prioritised.
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Jarrett, J. Woodcock, J. [and] Griffiths, U. [et al]. (2012). Effect of increasing active travel in urban England and Wales on costs to the National Health Service. Lancet June 9th 2012; 379 (9832): pp.2198-2205.
Readers may also be interested in a recent report on Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM). Exactly how (or whether) highly paid NHS employees might be persuaded to abandon their status symbol motors in exchange for low status walking and cycling (which are furthermore sweaty, time-consuming and physically tiring) are questions not addressed by this article.