Published: 31 May 2023
The latest survey from Public Health Wales’ Time to Talk Public Health panel has revealed that most people in Wales support reallocating road space in their local area for walking (75 percent) and cycling (68 percent). Creating an active environment is essential to support people to be physically active.
The survey also found an appetite in Wales for active travel, as 64 percent of people said they are interested (21 percent very interested) in increasing the amount of active travel they do. ‘Active travel’ is using activities such as walking or cycling as a means of transport to get to places such as school, work or shops.
Understanding why people in Wales might or might not choose active travel can help inform action to support active travel. The top three reasons why people would choose active travel are to improve their physical health (73 percent), to improve their mental health and well-being (60 percent), and to save money on fuel costs (40 percent).
The right environment and incentives can also help people choose active travel instead of their cars, which can benefit the environment as well as health behaviours.
30 percent of people reported concern about road safety as a reason why they might find it difficult to use active travel. The introduction of 20mph speed limits across Wales is one of the tangible ways Welsh Government is working with communities to support active travel.
Additionally, 27 percent of people said a lack of facilities, such as walking and cycling paths, was a reason why they might find it difficult to travel actively.
Wales passed landmark legislation to promote active travel (Active Travel Wales Act) in 2013. However, the ambition of the Act has not yet been realised and further work is required to achieve its goals.
Examples of recent active travel schemes across Wales include:
• Conwy County Borough Council to develop a traffic-free route between Llandudno and Betws-y-Coed.
• The Tywi Valley Path connecting the towns of Carmarthen and Llandeilo will repurpose a disused railway line to create a traffic-free path.
• Cardiff Council have reallocated road space into cycle lanes.
Dr Paul Pilkington, Consultant in Public Health leading on physical activity at Public Health Wales, said:
“Walking is the simplest way to undertake active travel, and while it is a positive step to see 25 percent of people walking every day as a means of active travel, and a further 34 percent walking several times a week, we are working to identify innovative ways to support the public to make it easier to choose active travel over their cars to increase these numbers.
“Active travel offers such a wide range of benefits across society. Individually it boosts physical and mental health. Collectively, it reduces the demand on our health service of treating many preventable illnesses, and contributes to reductions in traffic congestion, cleaner air, and fewer road traffic collisions.”
Engaging in active travel can make a sizeable contribution to reaching the four UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs) physical activity guidelines.
The survey revealed that while only 20 percent of people in Wales had heard of the CMOs’ guidelines, 32 percent knew the recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, with a further 40 percent having a vague idea. However, 65 percent had not heard of the recommendation to do muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days per week.
Dr Catherine Sharp, Public Health Researcher who leads the Panel on behalf of Public Health Wales, said:
“This is the first national data in Wales for us to understand awareness levels of the CMOs’ physical activity guidelines since the updated guidelines were published in 2019. Knowing the awareness of the guidelines and each of the recommendations is important as it can inform the communication approaches and content on physical activity for the public. This information shows how the Time to Talk Public Health panel can provide important and timely insight on public health issues to inform action.”
Josh James, Public Affairs Manager for Living Streets Cymru, said:
"The news that a vast majority of people support improvements for walking, wheeling and cycling should give bodies across Wales the green light to start reclaiming spaces for people, not vehicles.
“We must improve infrastructure so that active travel becomes an accessible option for everyone. Slower speeds and better walking routes will allow more of us to enjoy the health, wellbeing and financial benefits of walking more.”
1,051 panel members responded to The Time to Talk Public Health survey conducted in April 2023 which asked Welsh residents (16+ years) their views on a range of health-related subjects such as physical activity, active travel, menopause, climate change and shingles.
If you are interested in being a panel member, please sign up here.