Summer 2012 was the UK’s summer of sport. Millions watched the European football championships, followed by Wimbledon, the test match cricket with the West Indies and South Africa and, of course, the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Our enthusiasm for watching sport seems to know no bounds. The problem is that we sit at home watching it, rather than participating ourselves. Levels of physical activity in the UK are in decline and sedentary lifestyles are increasingly becoming the norm. We face an epidemic of inactivity that is costing a fortune and threatens the health and wellbeing of millions. Inactivity constitutes a major public health threat, increasing the risks of chronic disease and disability. This not only causes serious and unnecessary suffering and impairs quality of life, but also comes at a significant economic cost. The direct costs to the NHS and indirect costs to society as a result of inactivity total more than £8 billion each year.
In a time of budget cuts, investing in physical activity is smart public policy. Raising levels of activity and participation in sports not only improves health outcomes and reduces costs to the NHS and the wider economy, but can also contribute to a range of positive social outcomes including crime reduction, improved levels of wellbeing and mental health, increased educational attainment and more cohesive communities.
The report looks at participation in sport and physical activity in England, focusing particularly on young people. We look at the reasons why levels of participation are low and provide a four-point action plan to get more people active. We draw from extensive secondary research, 30 telephone interviews with relevant experts, and three focus groups with 25 (London-based) young people, aged 14 to 19. We are enormously grateful for all of those who took part in the research. In January 2012, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched Sport England’s new strategy, ‘Creating a sporting habit for life: A new youth sport strategy’. This outlined a number of important changes to sports policy, including a focus on young people (14 to 25-year-olds), a transitions programme to sustain participation into adulthood, a performance regime for the National Governing Bodies (who have failed to significantly increase participation rates) and increased funding to open up existing facilities, such as secondary schools, for community use.