Natural England - Health and the natural environment

Health and the natural environment

In London a unique set of factors interplay to influence the population’s health.

London has an extremely diverse, highly mobile, expanding and ageing population which presents particular challenges for public health needs. Additionally, issues linked to socio-demographic factors such as deprivation, unemployment and social isolation have led to health inequalities across the capital. This widening ‘health gap’ has a marked geographical variation in London. For example, in Brent, male life expectancy decreases by each southward Bakerloo line station, with Harlesden having 10 less years compared to Northwick Park.

Unhealthy weight gain and lack of physical activity among both adults and children is one of the most significant public health challenges for London. Sport England’s Active People survey for 2006 found that 50% of London’s adult population reported having done no physical activity at all in the preceding 12 weeks; only 21% reported doing 3 x 30 minute moderate intensity exercise sessions a week; and just 12% reported doing 5 x 30 minute moderate intensity exercise sessions a week.

Despite the publication of guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) (Promoting and creating built or natural environments that encourage and support physical activity) and the launch of Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives: A Cross- Government Strategy for England, there is still more to be done to tackle the obesity problem and encourage people in London to be more physically active. The Walking for Health Initiative (WfH) is one way in which  links between the natural environment and health can be made. There are currently 51 London Schemes, offering 177 weekly walks to 4,510 walkers, led by 378 walk leaders (August 2010).

The natural environment can play a significant part in health improvement as well as a preventative role when addressing three of London’s top public health priorities:

  • soaring rates of mental illness (London has a considerably higher percentage of inpatients admitted for psychotic diagnosis – 23% compared to the national average of 14%)

  • higher rates of childhood obesity

  • low levels of physical activity.

Current Projects and Initiatives

Natural Health Service - Lordship Rec
Summary descriptionLordship Recreation Ground, Tottenham was first opened to the public in 1932. The Broadwater Estate is one of the most deprived parts of London, with significant deprivation and poor health. Over the last couple of years several consultations have been carried out with the public about the use and design of the park, including visitor surveys. The site won Priority Park funding from the GLA in 2009. In addition, there are major plans to regenerate the site using the priority park funding as match funding for the HLF funding.
Latest update/progressIn London, we are working with partners at Broadwater Farm Estate on a pilot to signpost sedentary patients in a polyclinic to free, local opportunities to increase their physical activity at Lordship Rec. Patients receive a one to one consultation with an Exercise Expert as part of a Motivational Interview (a well know behaviour change technique). The patients are given a leaflet and signposted to local health walks, a community kitchen and a local food growing scheme linked to the park, next to the estate. This pilot is being developed to support physical activity programmes.
Supporting documents from NE

Our Natural Health Service

Mind Your Bloomin' Health! - Introduction of food growing green gym

Further information/web-linksLordship Recreation Groundexternal link

Walking for Health
Summary descriptionWalking for Health (WfH) is the largest network of 'health walks' in England. These walks are aimed at getting more people walking in a safe and sociable setting. Trained volunteers lead these free walks within the local community. There are currently 53 local groups in London (January 2011), and around 6,700 people regularly take part in short local walks, and this is growing all the time. In London we do a lot of work to support new and existing schemes, including working in deprived areas and training volunteers to lead local walks.
Latest update/progress

WfH is currently working in partnership with the Department of Health to expand health walks across London and the country. We are seeking to increase the number of walkers in London from 2,000 in 2009 to 14,000 in 2012. To do this, we are working with a diverse range of partners, from local authorities and primary care trusts, to local community and environmental groups.

The latest initiative is 'A Walk in the Park'.  The project is joint funded by Natural England and The Royal Parks, who have teamed up with the Ramblers (delivery lead) and the Rain Trust (part of Westminster PCT), who are the main delivery partners.  The project aims to develop ten new 30-90 minute health walks in London's Royal Parks which will run each week until the scheme ends on 31 March 2011. Participating parks include Green Park, St James Park, Hyde Park, Regent's Park, Greenwich Park and Kensington Gardens. The walks are free and open to people of all abilities, but they will also seek to target sedentary people, those in under-represented groups and those in deprived areas, by working closely with community groups. The aim is for the Ramblers and Rain Trust to continue the walks once the scheme has closed on 31 March 2011.

The project will be launched at 12:00 on Sunday 23 January 2011, at Speakers Corner, Hyde Park.

Supporting documents from NE

Our Natural Health Service manifestoexternal link
An estimate of the economic and health value and cost effectiveness of the expanded WHI scheme 2009external link

Walking for Health - Services in London: (5.71mb)pdf document

'A Walk in the Park' Press Releaseexternal link
Further information/web-links

Walking for Healthexternal link

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