Paul Jarvis, Head of Sport & Health at national sports charity StreetGames, explains why inactivity is back on the agenda and why a grassroots approach is crucial.
Inactivity is a killer. It’s well known that low cardio-vascular fitness, which is the direct impact of being inactive, accounts for 17% of all-cause deaths in the UK - significantly higher than smoking and obesity. And, according to a new study, twice as many people are dying from inactivity than obesity. In fact, globally, physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of early death.
The problem is worse amongst young people, who are carrying sedentary habits throughout their lives. Our own data published with the Centre for Economics and Business Research found nearly half of all 11-25 year olds in England don't make the Chief Medical Officer's recommended targets for physical activity – that’s over 4.5m youngsters. Overall, it’s young women who are less active: 56% fail to meet recommended activity levels compared to 39% of boys and young men.
And if you live in one of the UK’s disadvantaged communities, it’s even harder to access sport. The poorest households spend just a tenth of the amount that the richest households spend on sport activities, services and equipment, equating to less than £2 per week. This could be a reason why a young man growing up in one of the UK's disadvantaged communities 2007-10 could be expected to live almost 15 years less than one of his more affluent peers.
So what’s the answer? We need to give young people, especially those in disadvantaged communities, more opportunities to get active on their doorstep. At StreetGames, we know sports that don't require full facilities or membership fees are also appealing to disadvantaged young people. Sports clubs can be geographically and financially out of reach to these communities, they may not have the transport links or financial means to get to facilities outside of their neighbourhood, or they’re worried they won’t fit in.
That’s how projects like Let’s Get Fizzical in Birmingham are making a difference. The project specifically encourages inactive and overweight young people to get involved in sport, by offering alternative activities that aren’t normally available on the school curriculum. Let's Get Fizzical also has a high proportion of girls and children from BME backgrounds taking part, so the programme is tailored to take into account gender and cultural differences. It’s clearly working, with 73% of the participants having increased or maintained their activity levels after just six months. One of the reasons the community has embraced the project is that it is run by local young volunteers.
We know young people are most influenced by their peers which is why we’re working together with the RSPH and its Youth Health Champion Programme. This new award gives young volunteers in local projects training to not only improve their own health but crucially, be able to act as ‘health advisors’ to their peers. The trainees can then offer help and support to anyone engaged in activities that might damage their health, such as smoking, unhealthy diet and alcohol misuse.
We know this grassroots approach works and can mean young people make lasting, healthy changes to their lifestyle. And if we can change unhealthy and sedentary behaviours now, they’ll enjoy the benefits for years to come.
- StreetGames and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) The Inactivity Time Bomb (2013) http://www.streetgames.org/www/content/inactivity-time-bomb-streetgames-cebr-report on 01/04/13
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, University of Cambridge, 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30812439
- Walking for Health, The Walking Works report http://www.walkingforhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/Walking%20Works%20-%20HSCP%20fact%20sheet.pdf in October 2013
- ONS, Inequality in Disability-Free Life Expectancy by Area Deprivation: England, 2003–06 and 2007–10 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_319481.pdf on 25/07/13
- Public Health England, 2013 Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum- Report of the Public Health and Prevention Sub-Group accessed from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/216854/CYP-Public-Health.pdf on 22/12/14