Research shows that fitter cities could save lives
Globally, according to the World Health Organization, non-communicable diseases caused 36 million deaths in 2008, with obesity and physical inactivity identified as major contributors. If no action is taken, the number of lives cut short will continue to increase, and it is estimated that by 2030, non-communicable diseases could claim the lives of up to 55 million people. Research has shown that if public and private entities worked together to bring back movement into our cities, in terms of enabling exercise-friendly facilities to facilitate exercise through urban planning policies and promote community participation, as many as 1.3 million lives could be saved each year.
To increase awareness around this, and highlight the importance of how living a healthier, more active lifestyle can impact positively on our health and wellbeing, Discovery Vitality collaborated with several experts in the fields of public health, physical activity, urban planning and environmental studies to discuss the feasibility of creating an unique algorithm that would allow a clear view of how fit South Africa’s cities really are.
Discovery Vitality’s aim in developing the Vitality Fittest City Index is to determine how each of South Africa’s six major metropolitan areas rank in physical activity-related health and infrastructure that promotes physical activity.
“The rapid rise in diseases of lifestyle is a major health concern and we hope that the Vitality Fittest City Index will encourage policy makers and local governments to create supportive environments which will improve the health and physical activity profile of their city, and we’d like the Index to act as motivation to encourage people to find opportunities to get active,” says Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery.
Data for the Vitality Fittest City Index was collected from reliable, publically-available resources and research, and divided into four categories: personal health indicators; self reported physical activity, transport and sports facilities.
“Finding reliable data and extrapolating it to the metropole level, particularly the facilities data, was very challenging,” says Professor Estelle Lambert, a professor at the University of Cape Town/Medical Research Council Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, and one of the Fittest City Index’s collaborators. “Factors that influence lifestyle choices, particularly in the ‘ecology’ or the environment (social, physical and policy) are particularly relevant in a country like South Africa where there are extremes between levels of poverty and wealth,” explains Prof Lambert.
“This algorithm,” says Lambert, “is unique to the South African setting and is among the first to integrate these data from various credible sources to calculate the Vitality Fittest City Index.”
The results show that Cape Town is South Africa’s Fittest City
The Mother City’s urban infrastructure gives Capetonians the edge when it comes to facilities and an environment that encourages and facilitates exercise. Cape Town’s urban infrastructure includes dedicated cycle lanes and integrated bus and cycle routes. Cape Town’s residents have the lowest car dependency in the country and are the biggest users of public transport. In addition, the city also has the greatest number of sports clubs, gyms, fitness facilities and parks per 100 000 people.
The six major metropolitan areas which were ranked in the Vitality Fittest City Index 2013 are as follows:
1. The City of Cape Town
2. Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth)
3. Tshwane (Pretoria)
4. eThekwini (Durban)
6. Ekurhuleni (East Rand)
What Cape Town is getting right
Cape Town’s public transport network gives it an edge over the other metropoles. Its MyCiTi Bus Rapid Transit system plans to deliver accessible transport to the majority of the city’s residents to within 500m of their homes within the next 15 to 25 years, including those in densely populated outlying areas like Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain.
The first phase of this bus rapid transport system opened in May 2011, with an express service along the heavily-congested commuter belt from Table View and Milnerton to central Cape Town, as well as several feeder services. Crucially, the buses allow bicycles to be carried on them so users can cycle to bus stations and take their bikes with them. The city has built a cycle path between Milnerton and Paarden Eiland which offer cyclists a safer alternative to the regional road. The path is clearly signposted and includes drop-kerbs for easy access. In addition, the city has an above average number of sports and recreational facilities per 100 000 people.
Where there is room for improvement in Cape Town
Capetonians may be rich in facilities but they’re poor in health. According to the Vitality Fittest City Index Cape Town scored poorly when it came to personal health indicators such as BMI, waist circumference, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Getting more people to move more often could impact positively on these health statistics: local authorities need to ensure that pavements are in good condition, that there is support for community events like mass participation walks, cycle races and seniors’ walking programmes, and by setting an example through their own staff involvement in fitness initiatives.
Cape Town’s coastline also offers numerous opportunities for water sports and community programmes that encourage water sport enthusiasts to help teach novices. Beachfront promenades are the ideal venue for guided Walking for Health events.
The purpose of the Vitality Fittest City Index is to increase awareness around the health benefits of physical activity, and provide insight in the current state of our nation’s health and to provide information about what our cities can do to get fit and healthy. This initiative will also help to generate healthy competition between our cities to motivate behaviour; to provide information around the built environment and resources that encourage activity and to set policies which will encourage individuals and communities to engage in physical activity as part of a healthier, active lifestyle.
Notes to the Editor
How the Vitality Fittest City Index research was conducted
Indicators that contributed to the Vitality Fittest City Index were as follows:
· Personal health indicators (SA Demographic Health Survey 2008) – measures that have a relationship with regular physical activity, including Body Mass Index (BMI), waist circumference, the prevalence of diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. These were then compared to national averages.
· Physical activity (SA Demographic Health Survey 2008) - self-reported participation in physical activity was assessed in relation to international minimum requirements for health, and compared to the national average
· Transport (National Household Travel Survey, 2003; Stats SA 2011) – public transport availability, proximity and costs to and from work were compared to national averages
· Facilities (Sports Federations, National Fitness Facilities, Metro websites) – the number of major sports and fitness clubs and parks per 100 000 people compared to the metropole average.
· The above was determined via reliable and publically available published resources.
Advisory Board members were:
· Dr René English is the Director of the Health Systems Research Unit at the Health Systems Trust in South Africa
· Warren Smit is a researcher at the African Centre for Cities (ACC), an interdisciplinary urban research institute at the University of Cape Town
· Prof Estelle Lambert, professor at the University of Cape Town/Medical Research Council Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine
· Dr Tracy Kolbe-Alexander is based at the University of Cape Town’s ‘Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Research Unit (ESSM).
For Discovery Vitality
· Dr Jill Borresen, Clinical Wellness Manager at Discovery Vitality
· Josiase Maroba, Actuary at Discovery Vitality
· Stephanie Donaldson, Biokineticist at Discovery Vitality
Discovery is an authorised financial services provider.
Discovery operates in the healthcare cover market in South Africa, the United Kingdom and China; the life assurance market in South Africa and the United Kingdom; as well as the long-term savings and investment market, and short-term insurance market in South Africa.
Vitality, Discovery’s wellness programme, is the world’s largest scientific, incentive-based wellness solution. It provides individual and corporate wellness initiatives in South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and China. The global Vitality membership base now exceeds 3.4 million lives.
Discovery’s core purpose is to make people healthier, and to enhance and protect their lives through financial products that clients need and want.
- Launched in 1997, Vitality is Discovery’s science-based wellness programme that underpins each of the Discovery businesses and is an international brand in its own right.
- It is the largest programme of its kind in the world.
- Vitality encourages healthy behaviours that reduce long-term healthcare costs by rewarding members for improving their health.
- There are now more than 1.6 million Vitality members in South Africa.
- Vitality is accredited by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa.
- The Vitality value offering is enhanced by the DiscoveryCard, Discovery’s unique Visa credit card which gives members real cash back.
- Launched in 2004, the DiscoveryCard is the largest non-bank card in issue, with an 8.9% share of point-of-sales spend. There are now 231 302 primary cardholders.
- The HealthyLiving™ benefit offers Vitality members up to 25% cash back on HealthyCare™ products at Clicks, HealthyGear™ at adidas and TotalSports stores, and HealthyFood™ items at Pick n Pay.
- Vitality now has the ability to integrate into over 100 fitness tracking technologies.