Prioritising Physical Activity

by Phil Chamberlain, External Relations Director, Youth Sport Trust

The Health Select Committee have this week published theirreport into the impact of diet and physical activity on health, and its findings make welcome reading for the Youth Sport Trust.

The Committee’s main conclusion is that physical activity is critically important in its own right, delivering huge health benefits totally independent of a person's weight.

This is something that the Youth Sport Trust have been shouting from the rooftops for a long time. As we point out in our Manifesto, ‘Unlocking Potential’, physical activity has a wide range of benefits for young people, from helping to develop strong bones, muscles and joints, to strengthening the cardiovascular system, to helping boost mood and academic achievement.

As the Committee highlight, the problem is, that for too long, physical activity has been too closely associated with tackling obesity. As such, the benefits of physical activity in its own right are being missed. The Committee suggests better communication is needed on this front. From cross departmental Government campaigns and policies, to doctors and nurses in your local surgery promoting physical activity during regular check up’s, the Committee state that urgent action needs to be taken across the board to ensure everybody knows the importance of physical activity. Indeed, at the Trust, we would argue for targeted action, particularly in relation to children, who have some of the lowest physical activity rates in the general population, with just 21% of boys and 16% of girls meeting the minimum recommended guidelines.

Another important point made in the report is the need for physical activity to become a public health priority, with bigger, population level, interventions needed to influence behaviour. The Committee highlight examples such as redesigning buildings to make the stairs more accessible than the lift, however we would argue that the most important population level intervention to increase physical activity levels is to ensure every child receives a high quality physical education at school. This is because we know that through high quality PE, children develop basic movement skills such as agility, balance and co-ordination, something we term ‘physical literacy’. These movement skills are essential to ensuring children have the confidence and competence to be active later on in life.

We also know that PE and physical activity at school is critical in shaping attitudes towards physical activity in later life. As such, all children must have the opportunity to take part in a broad range of PE, sport and physical activity opportunities to ensure  unsuitable PE at school doesn’t put them off being active for life.

The report goes on to highlight a number of other recommendations, and while we are disappointed it doesn’t explicitly note the importance of PE in relation to inactivity, we are delighted with the strong message directed to the next Government: physical activity must now be treated as a top tier public health priority.

You can read our submission to the enquiry here.