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Obesity cure - Please walk on the grass!
The Impact on Physical and Mental HealthObesity already costs more in public health terms, and will overtake smoking as Britain's biggest killer in 10-15 years if current trends persist.
There is growing concern about the health of the nation and particularly that of our children and young people. A variety of research has identified these startling facts: 20 per cent of four-year-olds are overweight, and 8.5 per cent of six-year-olds and 15 per cent of 15-year-olds are obese.
This increase in obesity is linked to ever more sedentary lifestyles and a reduction in outdoor activity. Evidence shows that adult patterns of exercise are set early on in life. 14 Inactivity breeds inactivity, so a lack of exercise when young can in turn create problems in adulthood such as diabetes and heart disease. It is not just the nation's physical health that is at risk: there are concerns too about people's mental well-being, given the stressful lives that many now lead. Each year the economy loses millions of working days through stress-related employee absence. Clearly these problems need to be addressed. Access to good-quality, well-maintained public spaces can help to improve our physical and mental health by encouraging us to walk more, to play sport, or simply to enjoy a green and natural environment. In other words, our open spaces are a powerful weapon in the fight against obesity and ill-health.
The health benefits of walkingSafe, clean spaces encourage people to walk more and therefore offer significant health benefits. Some doctors are even prescribing a walk in the park to aid patients' health as it has been proven to reduce the risk of a heart attack by 50 per cent, 15 diabetes by 50 per cent, 16 colon cancer by 30 per cent, and fracture of the femur by up to 40 per cent. If done as part of a group, walking offers social benefits too.
A study of walking groups has shown that just increasing the distance walked from one to two miles a day means one less death per year among 60 male patients aged 61-80 who suffer from heart disease. It is also estimated that if just one in 100 inactive people took adequate exercise it could save the NHS in Scotland as much as £85 million per year.
Green spaces and long lifeEvidence from Japan emphasises the vital role that tree-lined streets, parks and other green spaces play in our lives. Not only do they enhance our sense of community and our attachment to a particular neighbourhood they can even help us live longer. Of more than 3100 people born between 1903-1918 in Tokyo, 2211 were still alive by 1992; the probability of their living for a further five years was linked to their ability to take a stroll in local parks and tree-lined streets. 20 Jubilee Park, Canary Wharf, London and so reduces healthcare costs.
The environment and mental health Improvement in people's mental well-being is one of the benefits of a better physical environment. When housing and the surrounding external environment on one typical new-town estate were upgraded in consultation with residents, 'substantial improvements' were recorded in the mental health of those residents. 25
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