An old line, I know: getting old is rubbish, but the alternative is worse. In truth of course it’s a bit more complicated – good policies and good choices can minimise the negative aspects of ageing, for the individual and for society, and maximise the best .
Not everything governments do is perfect, but the Foresight programme of long-term evidence review and policy visioning is at the top end. Looking 25 and even 50 years into the future, Foresight breaks free from the usual short-term political considerations (“how will this play at the next election?”) and thus provides a really valuable strategic input to policy.
Now, Foresight is looking at the future of an ageing population. It takes a clear and measured look, and notes that social and health care costs are likely to become a critical drain on the Exchequer if we don’t tackle the growth in non-communicable disease. On the other hand, with the right policies and individual choices we could all look forward to longer healthier lives, rich in experience and satisfaction.
Needless to say, travel and transport are crucial to this study, as they are to a satisfactory later life. The location of and access to healthcare; a safe road environment; the impact of air pollution on cognitive decline; active travel vs sedentary living; bones broken through falling on pavements damaged by motor vehicles, the list goes on and on.
Salford and Swansea universities have reviewed available academic evidence on transport and ageing. Anyone who wants an authoritative overview of what research has been done (and what needs to be done) should look at their report. And a number of expert voices have contributed to this debate – I particularly recommend The Future of Transport in an Ageing Society, by Age UK and the International Longevity Centre.
Older people: an indicator species
To help Foresight focus more on practical things that could be done now – and why to do them now – Insall & Coe has written a discussion paper for this project, Ageing, transport choice and healthy living. Please read it….. and discuss!
Everyone has an opinion about public health issues, and often the opinion is that obese, diabetic, inactive or otherwise unhealthy people should just pull their socks up and change their ways.
In reality, the physical, social and cultural environments within which we all live effectively determine people’s behaviour. Exhort and encourage individuals to become more active, by all means, but create the conditions for them to do so, or any behaviour change is unlikely to be sustained. Young or old.
The paper looks at the huge disparity between the UK and other countries in older people cycling, in particular, and identifies them as an ‘indicator species’ –“if older people are not visible on the street in numbers proportionate to their share of the population, their absence indicates that we need to roll back the motor vehicle’s dominance.”
Other relevant Foresight studies
Foresight’s 2007 Reducing obesity report still today provides the bedrock for obesity policy. Helpfully, it says “the top five policy responses assessed as having the greatest average impact on levels of obesity [include] increasing walkability / cyclability of the built environment”.
And the Future of cities project, just coming to its conclusion, considers how to make UK cities great to live in and competitive internationally. Foresight has a very good discussion paper on Active travel in the city of the future (declaration of interest: I wrote it!).
So there you have it. Active travel: it’s better than the alternative!