Talking the talk but not walking the walk

So, the Government has just decided that gardening must be included in a list of health-enhancing activities used to judge whether it has succeeded in its ambitions to get two million more people active by the start of the London Olympics in 2012.

Well, we could have told ministers years ago that the best way of getting the nation's hearts pumping in the right way was to get folk out into their gardens. Spending tens of millions on facilities for some of the more curious Olympic activities - synchronised swimming and dressage to name but a few - was always more likely to cause high blood pressure.

Joking aside, it is hard not to conclude that this is a panic measure brought about by policy wonks who fear the Government doesn't have much chance of meeting its self-imposed target: a failure that wouldn't have mattered so much if it hadn't boasted that while previous Games have not driven up physical activity levels among host countries' populations, the London Olympics would be different.

But there is a much more important issue here. In the Department of Health's new London Olympics-inspired physical activity plan, which outlines programmes to be delivered by various government departments to get more people active, the critical role of green space - whether for walking, jogging or general sports - is made absolutely clear. The quality of our environment, it says, has a direct influence on physical activity levels and the opportunity to explore safe, attractive parks or streetscapes can be a significant motivator for walking and cycling.

The plan rightly recognises, for example, the importance of Natural England's Walking the Way to Health initiative for its contribution to adult health and includes promises to work in partnership with the agency to significantly expand the scheme.

And yet not a single word from the Government in this activity plan on how it intends to plug the massive parks-funding gap to ensure those quality green environments it acknowledges are so critical to health can continue to be provided at the standard required. Why? Because that would mean making a genuine commitment to parks. And why do that when you can just fix the statistics?


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