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Unhealthiest cities are damaging public health

People live 2.5 years longer in the healthiest cities

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 02 November 2018

Public health experts have today revealed the 10 most unhealthy and healthy towns and cities in the UK, warning that the places on the former list are harming public health.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has published a league table report* ranking 70 of Britain’s major towns and cities by the impact of their high streets on the public’s health and wellbeing.

The rankings are based on the prevalence of different types of businesses found in the towns’ main retail areas and rate Grimsby as having the unhealthiest high street, with Edinburgh coming out as the healthiest. The rankings exclude London high streets, which have been ranked separately in the same report.

RSPH said its league table report follows on from the announcement by the chancellor of the exchequer of a package of measures designed to reinvigorate the nation’s high streets, and is a follow-up report to the original RSPH Health on the High Street published in 2015.

The new report updates the methodology used in 2015, to reflect the changing face of the British high street, adding off-licences and empty shops to the negative influences on health, and cafes and vape shops to the positive influences.

The top 10 “unhealthiest” British high streets were ranked as being in Grimsby; Walsall; Blackpool; Stoke-On-Trent; Sunderland; Northampton; Bolton; Wolverhampton; Huddersfield; and Bradford.

The top 10 “healthiest” British high streets were ranked as Edinburgh; Canterbury; Taunton; Shrewsbury; Cheltenham; York; Brighton & Hove; Eastbourne; Exeter; and Cambridge.

The RSPH said that average life expectancy for people living in areas with the top 10 healthiest high streets was two and a half years longer than for those in the 10 unhealthiest ranked areas.

Changes to British high streets that have influenced the rankings include:

  • a growth in the number of fast food shops by 4,000 between 2014 and 2017, especially in the most deprived areas
  • the number of vape shops have doubled from 1,000 to 2,000 in the past three years
  • the high street vacancy rate has increased from below 7% in 2007 to 11% in 2017.
The RSPH called for various measures to make British high streets more health-promoting, including asking the Treasury to review how businesses taxes were determined.

All vape shops should ensure all customers who smoke were aware of their local stop smoking services, said the report authors, who also called on local authorities to make records on vacant commercial properties publicly accessible, supporting ‘meanwhile use’ of vacant shops to keep high streets vibrant.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, said: “While the face of the British high street continues to change, the environmental and economic factors that influence inequalities in health outcomes across the country remain stubbornly intractable.

“Our rankings illustrate how unhealthy businesses concentrate in areas which already experience higher levels of deprivation, obesity and lower life expectancy. Reshaping these high streets to be more health-promoting could serve as a tool to help redress this imbalance.”

Kieron Boyle, chief executive of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, said: “There are huge opportunities to be creative in improving the nation’s health.

“This work highlights the important interplay of environmental factors on our health and illustrates how many others, beyond the health and care system, can play a role in supporting people’s wellbeing.”

*Health on the High Street: Running on empty. RSPH (November 2018).

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