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Boris Johnson 'obsessed' with encouraging cycling

Peter Stuart
15 May 2020

Cycling is a top priority in Prime Minister’s drive to tackle obesity in fight against Covid-19 in the UK

Boris Johnson believes that the coronavirus crisis presents the perfect opportunity to 'get Britain on its bike' to enable social distancing and tackle the high level of obesity that increases risks for those who catch Covid-19.

In a column for The Times, editor of the Spectator James Forsyth disclosed that the Prime Minister is allegedly 'obsessed' with encouraging more people to cycle to work, and is understood to be pursuing more interventionist drives to deal with public health.

The government has already encouraged local authorities to implement temporary changes to enable more cycling, as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has consistently instructed people to walk or cycle ahead of using public transport.

Much research has pointed toward obesity increasing the risk of having a severe case of Covid-19, as has data on admission to ITU (Intesive Therapy Unit) wards across the country. Britain suffers from some of the worst obesity figures in Europe, with around one in three Brits being classed as clinically obese (with a BMI of over 30).

Active travel - walking and cycling - are generally found to have a huge impact on obesity levels across a population, with one comprehensive study showing that cycling was shown to cause an average weight loss of 0.75kg compared to driving.

Johnson has historically been an advocate of cycling, beginning some of London's largest cycling infrastructure projects in his time as Mayor. Encouragingly, he has hired his then cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan as Transport Advisor in Number 10.

Increased Funding

This comes as the government last week announced £2bn of investment into cycling and walking, although some have suggested it is not new funding, but an acceleration of previously allocated spending.

‘There have been a lot of questions about the announcement the transport secretary made on Saturday, and I could talk at length about whether the money announced is actually new money or a re-announcement,’ says Duncan Dollimore, Head of Campaigns for Cycling UK.

However, Dollimore is highly optimistic that the general messaging from the government has undergone a sea-change. ‘One thing that is very positive is that the messaging from the government and the messaging from governments across the UK is far more supportive about active travel than it has ever been,’ Dollimore says.