Independent studies find people are living longer and getting more exercise

2 August 2018

  • Children’s life expectancy increases by six weeks thanks to Enjoy Waltham Forest’s road improvements
  • People are becoming more active by walking and cycling for longer after changes to local streets and neighbourhoods
  • More than 51,000 households in Waltham Forest are no longer living in areas with dangerously high levels of air pollution compared to a decade ago

Five-year-olds living in Waltham Forest today are predicted to live for an extra six weeks thanks to improvements in air quality since 2013. King’s College London also estimated that Waltham Forest’s residents will gain 40,000 years of human life in the coming century.

Research by the world renowned Environmental Research Group at King’s College London, commissioned by Waltham Forest Council, has shown that measures to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists such as segregated cycle lanes, increased pocket parks and timed road closures have helped to improve the life expectancy of the borough’s children. King’s concluded that the combination of improvements in air quality since 2013 and the introduction of road changes will have a beneficial effect on residents' exposure to poor air quality by 2020. (Across the borough NO2 exposure will be reduced by up to 25 per cent and up to 13 per cent for particulate matter).

Since 2015 the Enjoy Waltham Forest programme, funded by Transport for London’s Mini-Holland scheme, has delivered 37 road filters to motor vehicles and two part-time road closures, the construction of 22km of segregated cycle lanes, 104 improved pedestrian crossings, 15 new pocket parks and the planting of more than 660 new trees. Speed limits have also been reduced to 20mph in most residential roads and some main routes. In addition the programme has delivered more secure cycle parking infrastructure including 250 Bikehangars, free cycle skills training, and bike hire to encourage more people to get on a bike regularly.

King’s College London researchers also looked at the impact of the school run on air quality, using air quality modelled and monitoring data from 2013 and modelled data for 2020 estimated that the school run contributes to 14 per cent of all Nitrogen Oxides and Particulate Matter emitted from cars in Waltham Forest during the rush hour. King’s modelled that Waltham Forest’s interventions between 2013 and 2020 could bring a seven per cent reduction in these emissions between 8am and 9am.  The reduction was based on Waltham Forest’s current trends in modal shift (from car journeys to bicycles, walking and public transport) and additional reduction expected from the Mini-Holland scheme and additional infrastructure changes.

This study supports the recently published research by Dr Rachel Aldred of Westminster University, which shows that people living in neighbourhoods with Mini-Holland interventions in Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston are walking and cycling more, compared to Londoners living outside the three mini-Holland boroughs. Her survey of 1,712 outer Londoners found that on average people were walking an extra 32 minutes a week and cycling an average of nine extra minutes across areas close to Mini-Holland interventions.

Councillor Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for the Environment, said: “It’s always been clear to us that improving our neighbourhoods to encourage more walking and cycling through the Enjoy Waltham Forest programme will have significant benefits for our residents, especially for their health. Now we have independent evidence that it is improving air quality, extending life expectancy and encouraging people to be more active. I thank the experts from King’s and Westminster universities for showing that our efforts have not been in vain.”

Deputy Mayor for Transport, Heidi Alexander, said: “The Mayor is doing all he can to help clean up our toxic air, including investing a record £2.2 billion in making London’s streets more attractive to people who want to walk and cycle.

“Waltham Forest is leading the way on creating healthier streets and we want more boroughs to follow their example. Investing in local infrastructure not only improves road safety, but has a direct impact on public health as well. This is important for all of us, but especially the next generation.“

Researcher David Dajnak from King’s College London said “Waltham Forest’s interventions such as Mini-Holland scheme and additional infrastructure aimed at reducing the dominance of motor traffic is leading the way for healthier, less polluted cities.”

“It is only through innovation and changes in behaviour that we can hope to make the London of the future a less polluted and congested city than it is today.”

Dr Grace Rollason, GP and local resident, said: “Air quality is an issue that makes a significant difference to health. This research shows that the efforts of Waltham Forest Council to improve roads for all road users does have a significant impact on people’s health by not only improving air quality, but also getting people more active. If all local authorities could support their residents to do more walking or cycling, even just 20 minutes a day, then it would save the NHS billions of pounds.”

Additional research carried out for the council by the Air Quality Consultants has shown that the number of households exposed to more than the EU recommended maximum amount of Nitrogen Dioxide has dropped dramatically, from 58,000 a decade ago to 6,300 last year when comparing data 2007 with 2017. This data adds to the improving picture of air quality in the borough supported by the research undertaken by Kings College London and Westminster University.

While there is strong evidence to show that air quality is improving in the borough, there is still work to do. Around 270 people in the borough die from illnesses related to poor air quality every year, and in 2016/17 there were 251 admissions for asthma per 100,000 children admitted to hospital. Also, 40 per cent of the borough’s school children are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. King’s College London estimated that 250,000 years of human life could still be lost in Waltham Forest in the coming century if further action is not taken to reduce air pollution. This is equivalent to each of Waltham Forest’s residents having their life expectancy reduced by nine months.

Government guidelines suggest that adults should exercise for 20 minutes a day to greatly reduce their risk of developing long-term conditions like diabetes, heart disease and depression. Children aged 5 to 18 should do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day to develop stronger bones, muscles and maintain good health.

Cllr Loakes added: “Getting people to leave their cars behind and walk or use a bike is naturally going to improve their health and air quality for everyone. All of this recent research shows that we are on the right track, but this doesn’t mean that we are complacent, because we know that there’s still more that needs to be done. I don’t want any of our residents to be over-exposed to air pollution and we will be looking at how we can make more of a difference to our residents’ lives going forward.”

The full report can be read here.

Kings College London researchers are now working on a report into the further health benefits from increased physical activity that have been seen across the borough in recent years. This will be published later this month.

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