Press Release

Health inequalities persist 15 years on from Olympics bid

Almost 15 years since London won the bid to host the Olympics – on a promise to help ‘reduce health inequalities’ in the UK – a new report has found that East-West health inequalities persist in the capital.

The Centre for London report assesses obesity levels, physical activity levels, healthy ageing and mental health to take a snapshot of the health and wellbeing of Londoners.

read the report

The report, supported by Therme Group, finds that citizens’ health varies widely from place to place and, on some measures, east London, home of the Games has fared worse:

  • Newham and neighbouring Barking and Dagenham have some of the lowest levels of adult physical activity and levels have declined in both boroughs since 2015/16. In 2017/18, just over half of residents in these boroughs were getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
  • Adults in outer London make the least number of journeys on foot or by cycling. In the three years to 2017/18, the boroughs with the lowest average proportion of trips made by walking and cycling were Havering (22 per cent), Redbridge (23 per cent). In outer west London, Hillingdon saw similar rates (23 per cent).
  • In many cases, low levels of adult physical activity were mirrored in obesity levels. Outer east London boroughs have the highest rates of adults with weight issues. Havering, for example, has seen some of the fastest rises in obesity in recent years, a 10 per cent increase between 2015/16 and 2017/18 meant that now over 70 per cent of adults in the borough were classified as overweight or obese.
  • The proportions of children classed as overweight or obese are the highest in poorer east and northeast boroughs such as Barking and Dagenham (45 per cent) and Newham (44 per cent), while the lowest levels were in wealthier boroughs such as Richmond (23 per cent) and Kingston (26 per cent).

Meanwhile, some of the highest levels of active travel were in well-connected central boroughs such as City of London (54 per cent) and Camden (51 per cent), as well as those that actively promoted walking and cycling such Hackney (50 per cent). And residents in the south and west of the capital were getting more exercise than their counterparts in the east, with many boroughs, including Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston having over 70 per cent of adults classed as physically active.

Against this background, the report also highlights challenges for healthcare provision. It found that NHS waiting times from referral to treatment have been growing and that health services remain under financial pressure. The shortage of nurses was also highlighted as an urgent staffing challenge, with big drops of applications to study nursing and concern about the ability to recruit staff from overseas after Brexit.

Silviya Barrett, Research Manager at Centre for London said:

“Many Londoners lead healthy lives, but citizens’ health can vary widely from place to place, with health and life chances – especially in their formative years – shaped by deprivation and social background.

“We will need an Olympian effort by central government, the mayor and the boroughs, if London is going to address its health challenges in time for the 10th anniversary of the games, in less than three years’ time – let alone in time for the 15th anniversary of winning the bid, only nine months away.

“There are policies which can help address the factors that contribute to poor health and wellbeing, from preventing fast-food outlets from opening near schools, increasing access to green spaces and enhancing walking and cycling infrastructure across the city.

“But we also need to look at the root causes of the problems, entrenched poverty, precarious housing conditions and economic uncertainty. There are structural and embedded challenges in the city, which policymakers and practitioners must address.”

Shaun Danielli, Director, Healthy London Partnership:

“This report offers a crucial London snapshot and supports many of the 10 areas of focus outlined in the just-published the Health and Care Vision for London.

“Global heath is increasingly determined by cities. More than half the world’s population live in cities and by 2050 that this will increase to two thirds. While London, like other cities, contain some of the best health and healthcare, as demonstrated by this report, they also contain a disproportionate share of the worst.

“This is a social injustice and unacceptable. London is leading the way international with initiatives such as the ULEZ – which is already showing a positive impact.

“Partners across London must continue to work together, at pace, to reduce inequalities and improve the health of all Londoners.”

Stelian Iacob, UK Director of Therme Group, said:

“We’re delighted to have supported the research into health and wellbeing in London conducted by Centre for London. At Therme Group, we understand there are many challenges for people to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle in our cities and we firmly believe that personal wellbeing should be available and accessible to all, regardless of background or socioeconomic status.

“The results of the research point to a real need for change in cities everywhere: in London, across the UK and around the world. We look forward to working in collaboration to develop solutions and being part of the drive to create the wellbeing cities of the future.”


Notes to Editors

  • Centre for London is the capital’s dedicated think tank. A charity and a research organisation, the Centre publishes research, hosts events, convenes and influences.
  • The London Intelligence: Health and Wellbeing, has been supported by Therme Group.
  • Therme Group is driven by the belief that wellbeing should be accessible to all, not just the privileged few. Their vision is to create the world’s most advanced wellbeing resorts, harnessing the complex interplay of nature, technology and culture. A Therme combines global thermal spa traditions with an indoor tropical ecosystem, creating an essential piece of social infrastructure to enhance the mind, body and soul.
  • Adult obesity figures originate from the Active Lives survey data from Sport England. Childhood obesity figures are from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) and Child Obesity Profile from Public Health England. Adult physical activity data are based on the Active Lives survey data from Sport England collected by Ipsos Mori for PHE.