The Importance of Encouraging Active Lifestyles – How the Planning System can Help

Briefing paper

The planning system plays a vital role in shaping the physical and natural environments in which people live. This is a key factor in helping people change their behaviours to lead more active, healthier lifestyles, with the benefits of sport and physical activity to people’s physical and mental health being well documented.

Health & Obesity

There is a strong body of evidence linking physical inactivity to obesity. The most widely used measure of obesity is the Body Mass Index (BMI), defined as weight divided by the square of height (kg/m²).

Obesity levels in the UK have increased from 15.0% to 26.0% since 1993. Figure 1 shows that, of every 100 adults in the UK, 3 are morbidly obese, 26 are obese and 35 are overweight.

NHS figures on obesity, physical activity and diet show that in 2016/17, there were 617,000 hospital admissions where obesity was a contributing factor. This is an increase of 18.0% on the previous year.

Physical Activity

According to the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), everybody should aim to be active daily. For adults, the recommended level of activity is 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. It is recommended that children over five should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day and children under five who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active for at least 180 minutes throughout the day.

The Active Lives Survey, undertaken by Sport England, measures the activity levels of people across England. Results from the most recent survey for November 2017/18 show that 62.6% of adults achieve 150+ minutes of activity a week. Inactivity amongst adults (less than 30 minutes of activity a week) was 25.1%, down from 25.7% 12 months previously. This was mainly driven by a decrease in the proportion of women and older adults (55+) who are inactive.

The decline in inactivity is an encouraging sign and one of the ways that physical activity can be improved is to encourage new schemes to allow for recreational/sporting provision when they are being developed. The planning system has an important role to play in this respect.

The Planning System and Healthy Communities

Section 8 of the National Planning Policy Framework states that planning policies and decisions should promote healthy and safe communities which:

  • Promote social interaction, for example through mixed- use developments.
  • Enable and support healthy lifestyles, for example through the provision of safe and accessible green infrastructure and sports facilities.

The NPPF also states that to provide the social, recreational and cultural facilities and services a community needs, planning policies and decisions should:

  • Plan positively for the provision and use of shared spaces, community facilities (such as sports venues and open space) and other local services to enhance the sustainability of communities and residential environments.
  • Take into account and support the delivery of local strategies to improve health, social and cultural well-being for all sections of the community.

National Planning Practice Guidance discusses the range of issues that could be considered through the plan-making and decision-making processes in respect of health and healthcare infrastructure:

  • Development proposals can support strong, vibrant and healthy communities and help create healthy living environments which should, where possible, include making physical activity easy to do and create places and spaces to meet to support community engagement and social capital.
  • Opportunities for healthy lifestyles have been considered (for example, planning for an environment that supports people of all ages in making healthy choices and promotes access to high quality open spaces, green infrastructure and opportunities for play, sport and recreation).

Analysing the Benefits Created by Recreational and Sporting Provision

Where planning applications include provision for recreational and sporting activities, Pegasus Group can assess the health and economic benefits these will bring to an area. This includes work on developments in the East Midlands and Yorkshire & the Humber, where the benefits assessed have included:

  • The value of quality of life improvements: By participating in sport (rather than being inactive), an individual reduces the relative risk of coronary health disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and colon cancer. Life expectancy (and quality) is extended as a result. For example, the Culture of Sport Evidence Programme (CASE) estimates that the quality of life improvements for a person who plays football at ages 50-64 (compared with someone who does not) are around £17,700 over the remainder of that person’s lifetime.
  • The long-term health costs saved: Analysing longer-term savings in health service costs made as a result of active individuals avoiding four diseases (coronary health disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and colon cancer). According to the CASE programme, compared with a person who does not play sport, a person who plays tennis at ages 30-49 is estimated to see their health costs reduced by around £2,800 over the remainder of their lifetime.
  • The usage value of sport provision: It is possible to attach a value to the outdoor sports facilities using economic valuation methods. These are based on proxy market prices for equivalent facilities in comparable areas. The market prices are then applied to the facilities in question, based on estimated usage levels, to produce annual usage values.

For further details on how Pegasus Group can help in assessing the impact of recreational and sporting provision, please contact us.

Additional Information

+Download PDF