With the increased use of cars, and public transport fueling sedentary behavior; exercise has become something of a lost art. Thankfully, Hackney council have worked tirelessly to combat this by promoting cycling in the borough- through providing two hours of free cycling training to all residents, numerous bike racks, a cycle loan scheme, and designated cycle lanes in all the major parks.

However, despite having reported figures of the fourth highest number of people cycling to work in England, Hackney also has a considerably large demographic of overweight and obese adults, at 41%.

Does Hackney make you fat? conducted some research to determine if overweight and obese people were being encouraged to cycle.  We counted the number of overweight/obese people cycling on different roads across the borough.

In Kingsland Road (Dalston), we counted a total of 106 people cycling in one hour. From this total figure, only 15 were overweight, or obese. This meant only 14% of total cyclist surveyed were of this demographic. In Mare Street (Hackney Central) there was a similar observation- only 19 from a total of 126 people were overweight or obese (15.1%). In Clapton Common, out of a total of 37 cyclists, only 3 that we counted were overweight/obese (8.8%). 

Why is this? It is difficult to pinpoint the exact answers, but there are several theories. Firstly, there are long term doubts about safety. Even though the council has introduced numerous cycle lanes to meet the demand for cyclists, the increase in population (the estimated population is now 257,000), and the ever increasing number of cars on the road means accidents continue to rise.

These accidents are more likely to occur on narrow roads, junctions, and at traffic lights. From 2009 to 2014, there were 1297 collisions with cars. There are also ongoing concerns that cycle lanes are not wide enough, and need to be further away from traffic. This may dissuade people from cycling, unless they are already fit, and have been cycling for some time already.

Alongside legitimate safety concerns, air pollution is a worrying issue in the streets of Hackney. In 2010 a report indicated that traffic near 27 Hackney schools breached ‘safe nitrogen dioxide levels in the air. Whilst the council have worked tirelessly to counter this through monitoring air pollution, and having ‘low emission neighbourhoods’ that focus on wider pavements, and planting more trees to counter the air pollution; the relentless high volume of vehicles on the road make it a challenging task to control.

Hackney is also poorly served by Transport for London's' bike hire scheme-Santander Cycles. The bikes, which can be hired on a daily basis, are sponsored by bank Santander, and were originally known as 'Boris bikes', are being pioneered by former London Mayor, Boris Johnson. There are only 25 docking stations in the entire borough, towards the edge of town; which may partially explain the low demographic of overweight users

Hackney is a very diverse borough, and certain cultures (and potentially of specific age groups), do not regularly exercise as part of cultural traditions- such as the Turkish, Bangladeshi, and Jewish communities; which underlines why they have high a obesity demographic. Indeed, it is entirely plausible that cycling may represent certain cultural demographics of the Hackney population. Could some cultures simply be excluded from cycling through their own choice?

However, social stigma may play the biggest part. Overweight and/or obese people may feel wary of exercising in front of others; particularly in cycle clothing; which can consist of tight lycra. On the road, cyclists are very exposed; in full view of pedestrians and motorists. Could this be the genuine factor underpinning their low numbers on our roads? Despite a great deal being done to promote cycling, the overweight and obese community are being underrepresented.