UK families could get money off shopping bills if they hit exercise goals

A woman running up and down steps for exercise.

Families could be offered discounts on their food shopping, cut-price sports gear and free cinema tickets for hitting exercise targets in a drive to reduce the burden of lifestyle-related illness on the NHS.

The proposals, for residents to receive rewards if they walk a specified number of steps, form part of NHS England’s plans for 10 new “healthy towns”, intended to address serious healthcare problems including obesity and dementia.

As well as downloadable apps that reward walking, plans for Halton Lea in Runcorn, Cheshire, include free bikes, an outdoor cinema, sprinting tracks on pavements and outdoor gyms. Residents could receive lessons in how to cook healthily, while a community kitchen could supply food to local schools, hospitals and meals on wheals.

Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said it was crucial that health should be “designed in” to the much-needed wave of housebuilding across the country.

“These practical designs for Halton point the way, uniting young and old in thinking through the sort of communities we want for the future,” he said. “The NHS makes no apologies for weighing in with good ideas on how the built environment can encourage healthy towns and supportive neighbourhoods.”

The healthy towns programme was launched in March last year and includes new developments stretching from Darlington to Devon, comprising more than 76,000 homes and 170,000 residents. It is hoped they will establish a blueprint that will be followed elsewhere.

The initiative is a response to the burden being placed on the NHS by disease linked to sedentary lifestyles. In 2015-16, more than one in five children in reception and more than one in threein year 6 were obese or overweight.

Britain loses more than 130m working days to ill health each year, and a Design Council guide estimates that a quarter of British adults walk for fewer than nine minutes a day.

As part of the healthy towns programme, a design challenge was launched for Halton because it was felt that as it was at the beginning of its development plans it could make the most of bold new ideas.

The competition attracted 34 innovative bids from across the world, including the US, Spain, India and Japan, but the winner was the London-based Citiesmode.

Its ideas also include universal wifi, so residents can get in touch with health services from home, and converting a car park into a community square and outdoor cinema to “boost the sense of community and improve mental health”. The final plans for Halton are expected to be ready by January.

Melany Pickup, the chief executive of Warrington and Halton hospitals NHS foundation trust, said it was “a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something truly transformational for our population”.

Tam Fry, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said the initiative had the potential to achieve something that 20 years of the Department of Health and others warning about the perils of obesity had failed to do.

“This project is something which should be welcomed,” he said. “It should be reviewed thoroughly to see what works and doesn’t work. Who knows, it might come to offer a nugget that may be shared nationwide.”

The nine other sites, which are at different stages of development, are Whitehill and Bordon in Hampshire; Cranbrook in Devon; Darlington in County Durham; Barking Riverside in London; Whyndyke Farm in Fylde, Lancashire; Bicester in Oxfordshire; Northstowe in Cambridgeshire; Ebbsfleet Garden City in Kent; and Barton Park in Oxford.

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