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Doctors to prescribe bicycles as part of £2billion drive to tackle obesity

Bicycles will be prescribed by doctors for patients and all Britons will be offered free training on how to ride in a £2billion drive to get fat Britain ‘on its bike’.

Free repair vouchers worth £50 will be handed out and there will be a massive expansion of cycle lanes as part of a revolution unveiled today.

Boris Johnson announced that GPs in obesity hotspots will be encouraged to prescribe cycling, with patients able to access bikes through their local surgery.

Thousands of miles of new protected bike lanes and free cycle training for any child or adult will be offered under the Government’s ‘biggest and boldest plans’ to boost active travel.

Boris Johnson is pictured riding a bicycle on the streets of London, Britain on 24 March, 2015

The creation of the UK’s first zero-emission transport city and a dozen ‘mini-Holland’ schemes – which prioritise cycling and walking – will also form part of the revolution. 

Cyclists will be able to get £50 vouchers towards bike repairs from midnight tonight. 

Last night cycling charities welcomed the plans, which they say will ‘radically improve the quality of walking and cycling infrastructure’ in the UK.

Ministers hope the new measures will get people active and reduce pollution in towns and cities in a double boost to health. 

Unveiling the plans, Mr Johnson said it was time to ‘shift gears’ to boost active travel. 

He stressed: ‘From helping people get fit and healthy – and lowering their risk of illness – to improving air quality and cutting congestion, cycling and walking have a huge role to play in tackling some of the biggest health and environmental challenges that we face.

‘But to build a healthier, more active nation, we need the right infrastructure, training and support in place to give people the confidence to travel on two wheels. 

That’s why now is the time to shift gears and press ahead with our biggest and boldest plans yet to boost active travel – so that everyone can feel the transformative benefits of cycling.’

Today’s announcement comes a day after the Government launched its new obesity strategy to tackle the nation’s bulging waistlines. 

Officials are looking to seize on the surge in popularity for cycling during lockdown, which saw an almost doubling of those getting on the saddle.

Shoppers cycle on Santander bikes on Oxford Street, London, as non-essential shops in England open their doors to customers for the first time since coronavirus lockdown restrictions were imposed in March

Shoppers cycle on Santander bikes on Oxford Street, London, as non-essential shops in England open their doors to customers for the first time since coronavirus lockdown restrictions were imposed in March

The scheme will see more bike racks at rail and bus stations to encourage more people to commute to work. 

Other measures include strengthening the Highway Code, improving legal protection, increasing lorry safety standards and working with police and retailers to tackle bike thefts.

Ministers hope a national e-bike programme, giving access to more electric bicycles, will help those who are less fit or older to get back in the saddle. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps described it as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity to create a shift in attitudes’ to make cycling or walking part of daily routines. 

He added: ‘The measures we’ve set out today in this revolutionary plan will do just that. No matter your age, how far you’re travelling or your current confidence on a bike, there are plans to help and support you.’

An initial 50,000 Fix Your Bike vouchers will be made available online shortly before midnight tonight on a first come, first served basis. 

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes his dog Dilyn for a walk in the grounds of Chequers as he encourages people to exercise for a better health

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes his dog Dilyn for a walk in the grounds of Chequers as he encourages people to exercise for a better health

Those who obtain a voucher – at https://fixyourbikevoucherscheme.est.org.uk – will be able to save £50 on the cost of repairing a bike at participating shops. 

The Government said the vouchers are being released in batches to help manage capacity and for the scheme to be monitored before being rolled out more widely.

Halfords has said it has thousands of slots available each day for customers to bring their bicycles into stores to identify potential faults which could be rectified under the scheme.

Chief executive Graham Stapleton said: ‘We think the Government’s Fix Your Bike voucher scheme will not only help individuals become more confident about keeping their bikes maintained, but will help speed up the cycling revolution.’ 

Official figures indicate there has been a surge in cycling during the pandemic, with bike usage nearly doubling.

Previous statistics showed that around six per cent of Britons over the age of 16 – 2.8million – ride a bike at least once a week.

Xavier Brice, of the walking and cycling charity Sustrans, said today’s announcement ‘marks a big step forward’. He added: ‘By helping more people to leave the car at home for shorter journeys, this package of measures will cut pollution, tackle the causes of poor health and improve the safety of our streets.’

It is unclear so far where the first zero-emission city will be.

Boris’s sugar tax threat over cakes and chocolate 

BISCUITS, cakes and chocolate could be hit with a sugar tax if the industry does not make them healthier, the Government warned yesterday.

Ministers said they did not rule out extending a levy already imposed on soft drink makers to other high-calorie food and drinks.

Boris Johnson previously waged war on ‘sin taxes’, arguing Westminster should not dictate eating habits.

But the long-awaited obesity strategy , released yesterday, vowed further action if the current reduction programme on sugar, calories and salt fails to get results.

Launching the drive, the Prime Minister insisted ministers will not be ‘excessively bossy or nannying’.

Measures include an end to ‘buy one get one free’ deals on unhealthy foods and restrictions on where they are placed in stores.

There will also be a ban on junk food advertising on TV and online before 9pm.

Calorie labelling will be on all menus in restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees.

And a consultation on calorie labelling for alcoholic drinks sold in shops, pubs and restaurants will be held.

As part of the strategy, family doctors will be trained as ‘healthy weight coaches’ and paid to refer patients to weight loss groups.

There will also be a national campaign by Public Health England to help people eat more healthily.

Experts hope the measures will reduce one of the biggest health crises facing the UK and reduce the annual £6billion bill caused by obesity-related illnesses.

Two-thirds of adults in the UK are either overweight or obese, while one in three children are carrying excess pounds by the time they leave primary school.

The Government believes the greater threat of coronavirus to the overweight will motivate the public.

But the National Obesity Forum yesterday said failure to extend the levy was a ‘missed opportunity’ for ministers. And health campaigners said industry must take more responsibility after failing to cut sugar in common foods by a fifth by 2020.

The categories include cereals, yoghurts, cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate, ice cream and sweet spreads.

Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer at the Food and Drink Federation, said the Government’s ambition for a healthier population was right.

But he added: ‘It is also time it put real money behind targeted measures to help those most afflicted by obesity, rather than relying on headline-chasing measures.’

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