Through history, cities have often been pilloriedas unhealthy, toxic places – and for many years they were. Today, the picture is more nuanced. Most global cities still suffer from pollution, and many citizens suffer from health problems associated with poverty, and from the stresses and anxieties of urban life. But cities are also places where walking and cycling can be as easy as driving to many destinations, where shops and restaurants can enable good diets as well as bad, where big hospitals offer world-class care, and where communities can support their members to live healthier lives. And cities are where new innovations bubble up to help solve the health challenges that urban living can present.
This special edition of The London Intelligence, supported by Therme Group, examines Londoners’ health and wellbeing. It uses obesity levels, physical activity levels, and health ageing and mental health statistics to take a snapshot of health across the city, reviews the performance of London’s health services, and highlights the continuing challenges posed by air quality. We chose these indicators because we wanted to examine people’s health and wellbeing at different stages of life, including childhood, adulthood and later years, as well as how well London’s health service responds to the challenges.
In addition to the data, this report reflects insights gleaned from a high-level roundtable with representatives from the health service, third sector and policy-makers. The discussion reinforced some of the findings and examined some recent policy initiatives.
The report finds a city that is in many ways a healthy place to live, but that Londoners’ life chances – especially in their formative years – are shaped by poverty and social background. The capital still has higher levels of childhood
obesity than the rest of the country – and while Londoners spend more on fresh fruit and vegetables than other Brits – exercise levels are static or declining, particularly in areas of outer London.
The report, which comes almost 15 years since London won the bid to host the Olympics – on a promise to help the UK become a fitter society with ‘reduced health inequalities’ – has found that East-West health inequalities persist in the capital. East London, home of the Games has fared worse on some measures, including adult physical activity levels, childhood obesity and active travel.
Londoners also suffer from poorer mental health than the average across England. Survey data on loneliness, a factor in poor mental wellbeing, shows the lowest earners are six times more likely to say they are always or often lonely than the highest earners, which again underlines socioeconomic divides in the capital.