Greener streets are a simple way to reduce growing health inequalities

This post is by Zoe Banks Gross, sustainable neighbourhoods programme manager at the Knowle West Media Centre in Bristol.

Sport England recently released its Active Lives Children and Young People Survey data showing that health inequalities have been exacerbated since the pandemic. Covid restrictions have resulted in lower activity levels, and the more restrictions, the lower these levels. The data also shows that children from less affluent families were the least active and that “this was particularly significant for black boys, whose activity levels fell at a starker rate than boys overall”.

Black children have less access to outdoor space
There is also a broader ethnicity gap with only 36 per cent of black children getting active compared to 45 per cent of all children and young people. Children from these families are less likely to be able to access outdoor spaces in general. We also know from the Marmot review 10 years on report, published in February 2020 that, in England, “health is getting worse for people living in more deprived districts and regions, health inequalities are increasing and, for the population as a whole, health is declining.”

Many of these young people are living in areas of higher multiple deprivation. Inner city areas like where I live in Bristol, Lawrence Hill, have higher rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes for school children as well as adults. Ward data from Bristol City Council also shows that this ward has the lowest car ownership in the city, as well as the most overcrowded households, factors which would complicate excursions out of the inner city.

During the first Covid lockdown, in March 2020, families in tower blocks were severely limited in their ability to be physically active due to only being allowed to go out once a day. If they managed to get out, the reality was that there were not many green spaces to access. Friends of the Earth have produced an interactive mapping tool which shows the unequal distribution of green spaces in cities like Bristol.

The centre of Bristol is deprived of green space
In the image you can see Bristol, with the red areas being the most deprived of green spaces and the dark green ones having the most health and nature benefits.

Obesogenic urban areas, heavy on vehicle traffic, pavement parking and other clutter such as rubbish bins, need to be redesigned to facilitate easy active travel.  As long as it is difficult for children and families to walk or cycle to school and find places to play – whether a park or a play street – our city environments will continue to exacerbate inequalities. Sport England is investing in many schemes to address these issues, much of them are focused on schools and what they offer. These are important ways to make an impact.

Slowing traffic and making streets safer and greener would improve the routes that children and their families from all communities use to get to and from school, shops and playgrounds. Children who can easily and safely move around their neighbourhoods can access play and physical activity. This is a powerful and simple way to help reduce the inequalities that are preventing black boys getting a healthier start to life.

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