London is gearing up for a major, multi-pronged public health drive in a bid to become the healthiest major global city in the World over the next decade.

Central to plans - which are to be unveiled later today by Sir Ara Darzi, chair of the London Health Commission - is to make London’s parks as well as Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square smoke-free zones.

Around 1.2 million Londoners still smoke, causing 8,400 early deaths each year, and 67 London schoolchildren are taking up the habit every day, the Commission found. Its analysis suggests that the move to ban smoking from parks could reduce prevalence from 18% to 16%.

Estimates suggest it would cost around £6.5 million to implement over five years, but the lifetime value for the capital of the associated smoking reduction should fall between £210 million and £590 million, helping the NHS to financial sustainability, the report argues.


A year in the making, the report Better Health for London outlines a stream of other measures to tackle obesity, exercise, and drinking in response to growing fears that the city is facing a public health emergency.

For one, half of all adults in London – 3.8 million people – are obese or overweight, overshooting figures for New York, Sydney, Sao Paolo, Madrid, Toronto, and Paris. Added to which, it has the highest rate of obese or overweight schoolchildren of any peer city in the world, with nearly a third of kids obese or overweight by the end of primary school.

Traffic-light menus

To help slim down the population, the report calls for mandatory traffic-light labelling on restaurant menus, oyster card discounts for commuters who walk to work (financed by employers), and restrictions on junk food outlets near schools. Other measures to boost health include pilots for a minimum price (50p per unit) for alcohol, as well as speeding up air quality measures to reduce pollution and save lives in the capital. 

It is hoped that the plan for London may form a blueprint for the rest of the nation. In his letter to the Mayor Boris Johnson, who has the final say, Lord Darzi stressed that “the ideas and proposals in this report have been developed for London. Yet they could just as easily apply to other big cities in the UK – London should be a leader, not an exception”.