Check out my top policy objectives for health & fitness in London if I ever came to power.
There are over 3.6 million people in the UK with type 2 diabetes, and according to the London Assembly Health Committee 2014 report "Blood Sugar Rush - Diabetes Timebomb in London" there are 140,000 Londoners with the condition who are unaware they've got it. Roz Rosenblatt, London's Regional Manager for Diabetes UK, helped put the report together, and called for more ambitious targets to be set by manufacturers and supermarkets to reduce levels of fat, sugar and salt.
I think a lot more needs to be done than the report recommends. For instance, all NHS hospitals in London should get rid of vending machines which sell sugary fizzy drinks and sugary snacks, with the same ban in all schools. Cafes in schools and hospitals should offer only healthy options. Nutrition should be part of the national curriculum, with practical lessons in cooking healthy food.
London borough of Brent has the highest rate of type 2 diabetes in the UK. London has seen a 75% increase in levels of type 2 diabetes over the last decade (2004 - 2014).
Nationwide, diabetes accounts for 10% of the NHS budget, over £9 billion (2014 figures). Experts predict that this will rise to 17% of total NHS spending, due to complications such as limb amputations (October 2016 figures). 140 diabetes related amputations are carried out by the NHS every week.
China's president Xi Jinping is on a state visit to Britain, and the media spotlight is on China's policy on a range of issues. When it comes to air pollution, it's clear that Britain has nothing to learn from China: their air pollution levels are far worse than here in the UK, with no serious policy attempts to reduce it. At least our government is taking some (albeit tiny) steps towards reducing air pollution, which is better than no steps at all.
Boris Johnson recently visited Toyota in Japan, to inspect the new Toyota Mirai hydrogen-fuelled car, a zero-emissions vehicle. Boris ordered 12 of these futuristic vehicles to add to the TfL vehicle fleet. Toyota is one of the world-leaders in developing environmentally-friendly vehicles, as is Honda. Although still quite expensive, hydrogen-fuelled vehicles will come down in price as they are rolled out in greater numbers. Several years ago a hydrogen-fuelled bus was trialled in London, but it was deemed to expensive at the time.
The Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal has brought the issue of air pollution to the top of the media agenda. It's a great opportunity to phase out diesel altogether, and turn to cleaner fuels.
Check out this blog post on air pollution in London.
London is still one of the most air-polluted cities in Europe, and the government is busy trying to cover up this scandal by cutting funding for air-pollution monitors. We need to raise awareness about the thousands of Londoners killed every year by air-pollution related diseases. The best way to cut air pollution in London is to reduce the number of cars and other gas-guzzling vehicles on our streets, and increase the capacity of our bus network, using low-emission technology. We also need a revolution in cycling in London, which means real investment in cycle infrastructure to make cycling in London safer. See below!
Here's the best way to cut emissions and boost Londoners' health is to walk and cycle more, and ditch the car. Most car-journeys are a mile or less, and if we walked more, we would cut emissions at a stroke. However, London needs to be made more pedestrian-friendly, which means more pedestrian-only streets, more pedestrian crossings, longer 'green man' times for pedestrians to cross these crossings, and pavements along those sections of road which currently lack pavements.
New Labour was responsible for the 'rush for diesel' in the belief that carbon dioxide was the only element of air-pollution generated by cars. Three Labour governments between 1997 - 2010 had no policy to combat nitrogen dioxide, a poisonous emission which diesel vehicles pump into our atmosphere, despite all the warnings from experts.
Much publicity has surrounded the Boris Bike-hire system, but cycle infrastructure in London is way behind the more advanced world cities. We badly need a radical new cycle infrastructure which physically segregates cyclists from cars, buses, and lorries. Go to cities like Amsterdam, Munich, indeed any advanced European city (and many cities in the States such as Minneapolis, Portland, and San Francisco) and you'll find a cycle-friendly infrastructure fit for the 21st century. London is still in the dark ages when it comes to cycle lanes. In the first half of November 2013 there were 5 cyclist deaths on London's roads. That's way too many, and indicates that cycle safety lags way behind the increased demand for cycling in London.
Us Brits are still way too dependent on our cars. We need to get out and about more, it's so much healthier. As a personal trainer in London with clients who cycle to work, I would love to see a city which puts cyclists and pedestrians first. But just like the alcohol lobby, and the junk/processed food lobby, the car lobby is very powerful. We need a government which gives the health and fitness of all Londoners a far higher priority than big business interests. In the long run it makes financial sense as well as enhancing the wellbeing of Londoners.
Check out this blog post on the dangers of junk food
The problem is, most junk food is targetted specifically at kids, from junk-food restaurant food to junk-breakfast cereals crammed with sugar. Until recently there was an advert for a well-known chocolate spread (with high levels of sugar) targetted specifically to kids, with the false claim that its energy is released slowly into the body. These false claims should be banned altogether, not just before the 9pm watershed.
As a personal trainer in London I find it tragic that more and more kids in London are becoming overweight and obese. We're the worst country in Europe for childhood obesity. The government has gone some small way towards banning junk-food ads on TV, but only during children's programmes. But the ban needs to go further, to 9pm, because many kids watch TV up to 9pm, and are influenced by these adverts. And their parents are influenced by the 'pester power' of their children.
There are some really sad adverts on TV right now. One depicts a steamroller crushing cooking utensils, with the logo "don't cook, eat out!" What kind of message does that send out to kids?
Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef, has led some inspirational campaigns to improve the quality of school meals, but what kids eat at home and on the street has a huge impact too. Parents have a major influence on their kids' eating habits, and some are determined to protect their kids' 'freedom' to eat sewage. Do you remember the news item a few years ago, where a school in Hull banned junk food, and parents pushed crisps and chocolate through the school fence to feed their kids junk (a bit like people smuggling drugs into prison)
It's tragic that our kids are being brain-washed into eating the nutritional sewage that is junk food. Aren't child obesity levels too high already?
Write to your MP and push for the ban to be extended to 9pm.
George Osborne announced in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement & Spending Review on Wednesday 25 November 2015 that there will be extra cash for UK Sport, which is great news. However, I feel that even more investment in London sports & fitness facilities would reap even greater rewards in terms of health & fitness of Londoners, reduced crime among young people, and reduced reliance on the NHS.
Every parent knows how popular computer games are with young people, such as Call of Duty Black Ops, Halo 5, Grand Theft Auto, Assassin's Creed, Fallout 4. The real measure of a city with great sports facilities for young people is one which gets them off their computers and onto the tennis court, football pitches, and athletics tracks. The only reason why London isn't the sporting capital of the world is lack of investment. It's not like Britain is a poor country, but we fail to invest in the area which matters most: the nation's health.
It's tragic the government won't capitalise on this and build enough sporting facilities in London so that kids have something healthy and constructive to do, rather than roaming the streets in gangs and committing crime. The investment in sports facilities would pay for itself many times over. Problem is, governments underestimate the power of sport and fitness for transforming kids' lives.
The substandard quality of existing facilities is a big issue. For instance, I play a lot of tennis in London, and I'm shocked by the poor condition of the tennis courts in some of the public parks around the capital.
Government invests far too little in sporting activities for London's young people. For most people in London, a personal trainer is beyond their budget. Why won't the Government promote physical fitness on a scale that actually has an impact, by making personal trainers available on the NHS for group coaching.
It would be great if London Borough councils could invest in more tennis coaches, squash coaches, badminton coaches and coaches for other sports, made available for free to kids who can't afford private coaching.
What facilities are available and affordable for your kids in your Borough? Write to your MP and press for more. Nothing will happen unless we make it happen.
Hydrogenated fats (also known as trans-fats) are artificial fats manufactured by the food industry purely for the benefit of the manufacturers, and at a heavy health cost for the rest of us.
By forcing hydrogen into polyunsaturated oils, the food industry creates an artificial fat that is solid at room temperature. These hydrogenated fats, or trans-fats, are then mixed into a whole variety of junk-foods to extend their shelf-life, make them bulkier, and to carry various additives/artificial colours/preservatives, and in the case of spreads like peanut butter, they are easier to spread.
Why are they so bad for you? Because their saturated fat content is extremely high, attacking the heart and the arteries. They are even worse for you than naturally occurring saturated fats, because they not only raise your bad cholesterol levels (LDL), they also lower your good cholesterol levels (HDL) due to the change in chemical structure that hydrogenation causes.
Some fast-food chains are even getting away with calling the oil they use 'vegetable oil' without revealing the fact it is hydrogenated.
Hydrogenated/trans fats are found in fast food, some ready-meals, cakes, biscuits, confectionery and many other junk-foods.
Write to your MP and call for a total ban on hydrogenated fats in food.
Most people still don't realise that excess alcohol is toxic to every cell in your body, particularly to vital organs like your brain and liver. We are drinking more than ever before, and the cost to the nation is around £20bn a year in health/crime/social consequences. Deaths from alcohol consumption have risen from 4,000 in 1991 to over 8,000 deaths in 2005.
The problem is that alcohol is deeply ingrained into the British way of life, and the alcohol industry is very powerful and persuasive.
In 2007 doctors at the annual conference of the British Medical Association called for more tax on alcohol, after statistics were published showing that alcohol consumption among children aged 11-13 had doubled since 2001. And alcohol-related hospital admissions had risen from 90,000 in 1995/6 to 190,000 in 2005/6 (source: Information Centre of Health & Social Care). The BMA also condemned the lack of detox services for alcoholics in the UK.
in 2008 Professor Ian Gilmore, head of the Royal College of Physicians, said we were on the verge of a tsunami of alcohol-related health problems. The Department of Health confirmed a huge rise in alcohol-related hospital admissions, at 800,000 (compared to 190,000 in 1995), although this new figure includes a range of illnesses and accidents related to alcohol, which weren't previously included in the statistics. This higher figure reflects the true extent of the harms caused by alcohol. In response, the Government criticised the alcohol industry for breaching its own voluntary codes, but refused to tighten licencing laws or impose the minimum alcohol pricing policy called for by the BMA.
In 2009, the BMA called for alcohol sponsorship of sport and music festivals to be banned. Children were being groomed into becoming binge drinkers, they argued. Professor Gerard Hastings argued that it was wrong to promote alcohol by association with sports and music culture, in his report 'Under the Influence'. Again the government rejected the proposals.
Also in 2009, the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson said that the average UK adult drinks the equivalent of 120 bottles of wine per annum. He called for a minimum price per unit of 50 pence. This would reduce the incidence of young people 'pre-loading' on cheap supermarket alcohol at home before going out to pubs and clubs. "The country has a drink problem," he said. The Chief Medical Officer's annual report estimated that the 50p per unit minimum price would save 3,393 lives, result in 97,900 fewer hospital admissions, over 45,000 fewer crimes, and save the country over £1bn a year. Both the government and the alcohol industry rejected the proposals.
Government information campaigns are clearly not enough. We need increased taxes on alcohol, an end to supermarkets selling alcohol at cost price to draw in customers, stricter enforcement of the laws on selling alcohol to children, curbs on alcohol advertising, and labelling on alcohol bottles warning of the dangers of excessive drinking.
The British Beer and Pub Association rejects most of these measures, and seeks to discredit authoritative reports such as the 2006 Anderson Report that recommended increase prices, reduce availability, and restrict advertising. Could it be that the alcohol industry is more concerned about its profits than the health of the nation? The Portman Group, the alcohol industry's social responsibility body, claim that advertising and sponsorship don't encourage more drinking but merely a switch of brands.
In Channel 4's Dispatches - 'Drinking Yourself to Death' - aired on 18th June 2007, the Wine & Spirits Trade Association denied that lower alcohol prices led to increased alcohol consumption. You can draw your own conclusions.
The British Liver Trust is pushing for more explicit labelling to warn of the dangers of excessive drinking. Part of the problem is that we drink more units than we think we do. One can of Stella Artois is 2.3 units. A large glass of 11% strength wine is 3.5 units. Yet the labelling on bottles is so small and faint that you really have to search for it.
Write to your MP and call for more effective measures to curb binge-drinking.
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