Dr Alison Body discusses today’s headteachers rally in central London to demand extra funding for schools.
Mike Weed, Professor of Applied Policy Sciences and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, explores whether promoting sport participation is the answer to combating the rise in obesity.
Today is World Obesity Day and the World Obesity Federation is claiming that if current trends continue, the number of obese adults worldwide will rise from 2 billion to 2.7 billion by 2025.
This year’s World Obesity Day is calling for ‘urgent government action to end childhood obesity’, with the President of the World Obesity Federation claiming that ‘doing nothing is not an option’ and the Federation highlighting that four in five young people fail to get sufficient physical activity.
One of the responses of the UK government has been its recent sport strategy, Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation, in which government intervention in sport participation through Sport England is extended to 5-14 year olds. In introducing the strategy, the Minister for Sport claims that ‘the impact that sport has… has never been more important when we are battling with growing levels of obesity’. This, however, is a flawed rationale for investment in sport participation.
Among adults the last ten year’s investment in raising sport participation, including an investment of over £1bn across the last five year cycle, has not changed the number of adults participating in sport once a week by more than +/- 1% from 35% of the population. In the same period, the number of adults who are physically active for 30 minutes or more on at least five days each week has risen by more than a fifth to 38% of the population. This clearly shows that, despite considerable investment in sport, people are choosing ways, other than sport, by which to become active.
As a response to a call for action to end childhood obesity, extending to 5-14 year olds the remit of government investment and intervention in sport that has not shifted sport participation in adults by more than +/- 1% in ten years seems a little more than inadequate. In fact, contrary to the call of the President of the World Obesity Federation, perhaps doing nothing would be a better option than investing in sport as an unproven vehicle to increase physical activity, let alone tackle obesity. Put simply: that obesity is a problem is not evidence that sport is the solution.
Professor Mike Weed is Professor of Applied Policy Sciences and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at Canterbury Christ Church University. His research for the Department of Health and the Department for Education has helped inform physical activity policy for young people.
In only a few days’ time, on the other side of the world, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will get underway. Many of us will watch, but will the UK benefit? Certainly the government thinks that we might. Its Sporting Future strategy, published at the end of 2015, suggests that elite sporting success at the Olympic and Paralympic Games will improve national wellbeing, and increase sports participation and volunteering, and it has invested £275 million of our money on this basis.
If this sounds familiar, it is. Four years ago the legacy claims for the London 2012 Games were that it could deliver impacts for sport participation, economic growth and tourism, culture and volunteering, and the regeneration of the city. But that was for a Games hosted in London, with a significant celebratory festival effect that built into an increasingly anticipated crescendo over four years. Yet even with the build-up, the anticipation, and the largest medal haul in GB sporting history, the jury is still out on how far, if at all, the London 2012 Games delivered on its legacy ambitions.
So how likely is it that the UK will experience any meaningful benefits from the Rio Games. The Games will take place on the other side of the world, with many of the medals being won some time after midnight, so it is highly unlikely there will be shared national moments in which we collectively celebrate sporting success. Some of us will burn the midnight oil, some of us will catch up with events on breakfast TV or radio, and some of us will watch evening highlights programmes. This fragmented national experience is highly unlikely to create the conditions in which sports participation or volunteering impacts will be realized, nor is it likely to engender a shared sense of national wellbeing.
Yet this is the basis on which £275 million of taxpayers’ money has been invested in the pursuit of elite sporting success at Rio 2016. The government’s Sporting Future strategy is clear about this, noting that the success of investment in sport will be judged by the individual, social, community and economic development outcomes it delivers, not by the size of the medal haul. So no matter how many medals TeamGB wins, if the Rio Games do not deliver more people playing sport, more people volunteering, or a tangible sense of national wellbeing, then by government’s own standards, our £275 million investment will have been squandered.
Professor Mike Weed is Professor of Applied Policy Sciences and Head of the School of Human & Life Sciences. His research on Olympic legacies has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Department of Health and the Mayor of London.
Sports Minister, Tracy Crouch, this week announced the government’s new sport strategy: Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation, which aims to redefine what sport success is with a focus on physical and mental wellbeing.
Mike Weed, Professor of Applied Policy Sciences and Head of the School of Human and Life Sciences at Canterbury Christ Church University, questions the potential success of the new strategy.
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