Tackling physical inactivity in our local communities

Tackling physical inactivity in our local communities

Posted: Fri, 23 May 2014 09:44

Tackling physical inactivity in our local communities

We're facing a crisis of inactivity amongst our young people in the UK. Over 4.5 million 11 – 25 year olds in England do not achieve the Chief Medical Officer's recommended levels of physical activity. Local authorities are the tier of government that is best placed to make a real difference to the inactivity time bomb.

In April, StreetGames published a report with the Centre for Economics and Business Research which concluded that inactivity will cost the UK economy £53billion over the lifetimes of today's young people.

Inactivity does more than damage our collective pocket – the costs in human misery are huge too. We know a lot about the causes of early death in the UK: obesity is responsible for 6%, smoking for 10% and hypertension for 15%. However, it is low cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) that is responsible for the most premature death. In all, 16% of all early deaths among men and 17% among women are attributable to low CRF.

Local authorities have a central role to play changing the situation. They are now responsible for promoting public health in their patch and they also provide community sport and recreation facilities. We need a concerted attack on the problem which involves all departments in a council – from transport planning to leisure services and which involves the voluntary sector too.

Nearly all members of society would benefit from participating in sport more often but those from disadvantaged communities - where health inequalities are greatest and where participation in sport is lowest – would benefit most from more people taking up an active lifestyle.

At StreetGames we are concerned with inactivity amongst young disadvantaged people. We see sport as a subsection of physical activity – but an important one, especially for young people. All research shows disadvantaged people are prepared to do more sport if it's made easy for them to take part. They are ready and willing to get active once the right offer is made to them. A good sporting experience in the early years makes for long term involvement.

According to Sport England surveys, young people from the lowest socio-economic group are just over half as likely to regularly play sport compared with those in the highest socio-economic group. And our report shows that the poorest households spend about a tenth of the amount that the richest households spend on sport activities, services and equipment each week, equating to about £2 per week. There are too few sports opportunities available to disadvantaged youngsters and the type of sport on offer tends to be too formal and too rigid to appeal to the average teenager.

With local authorities from across the country - from Hull to Newport, and from Birmingham to Newcastle - we have consulted tens of thousands of people from disadvantaged communities to find out what kind of sporting offer they want. We call the resulting product Doorstep Sport. It is friendly and informal, varied and vibrant and delivered by adults who understand what the young people want and the implications of growing up in poverty.

Local Authorities are operating in challenging times. Budgets are squeezed and they are asked to do more with less. But the consequences of failing to address inactivity are very serious.

By taking a joined-up and collaborative approach to engaging young people from disadvantaged communities in sport, local authorities can help create not only a healthier and happier society, but a richer one too.

Article first published on 23rd April, 2014 on: www.localgov.co.uk

Jane Ashworth is CEO of national sports charity StreetGames

Tags: Legacy, Local Government, Sport, Sport for development, community sport


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