Drivers must no longer be the priority when building new roads, the UK’s health watchdog has warned.
Instead, town planners must put pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users first in a bid to encourage more people to exercise, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said.
According to the institute, making roads “safe, convenient [and] inclusive” for non-motorists could help to reduce the number of people suffering from some life-threatening health conditions.
“As a society we are facing a looming Type 2 diabetes crisis, which is in part caused by people not exercising enough,” said NICE deputy chief executive Professor Gillian Leng.
“People can feel less safe when they walk or cycle compared with when they drive. We’ve got to change this.”
Physical inactivity is thought to be responsible for one in six deaths in the UK – the same proportion as those caused by smoking. Meanwhile, it costs the UK £7.4bn a year.
Suggestions from the watchdog include even surfaces for pedestrians with limited mobility and non-reflective pavements for people with visual impairments.
Joe Irvin, CEO of walking charity Living Streets, said building towns around cars had left the UK dealing with “unhealthy air, congested roads and a decline in people walking everyday journeys”, with the most vulnerable suffering the most.
“It’s time that towns and cities were built for everyone – first and foremost for those on foot,” he said.
“Placing key services like schools, GP surgeries and bus stops within walking distance is vital. More people getting out and walking everyday journeys, such as to work or school, will make us a healthier country.”
NICE has also called for local authorities to appoint “physical activity champions” to oversee changes and for workplaces to launch activity programmes to encourage staff.