Yesterday, Public Health Minister Anna Soubry, announced new investment to help kids become more active during and after school – all good news, but she also drew attention to the large numbers of people who are simply not active enough, which will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on their health.
The evidence for this is based in part on the latest data on physical activity levels from Sport England’s Active People Survey. Whilst just over half of adults say they meet the Chief Medical Officers’ new, flexible 150 minutes a week recommendation for adults, many (44%) fall below this level. Of even greater concern are the more than a quarter of adults who are not even getting 30 minutes a week of moderate activity.
Much new evidence has also emerged in recent years showing the very real threat to our health from being sedentary. All of this amounts to burgeoning costs to the NHS and society in the order of £1.06 billion per annum for medical treatment and £6.5 billion in costs to the wider economy – quite staggering figures. If we were talking about smoking levels of around 44%, public health professionals would rightly be up in arms, so why are we not bearing down with the same vigour on inactivity – the ‘silent killer’?
As Sebastian Coe has remarked, inactivity could be a drag anchor for future generations. In 2008 only 32% of boys and 24% of girls were getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. By any standards this is appalling and we are gravely letting down our kids. I believe that being active is hard wired into the DNA of all youngsters, but it’s the world we have created around them that stops children from playing outside and chains them to screens.
So I very much welcome the announcement of £1.1 million of funding for Play England to help local people organise temporary street closures to let kids play and the £3 million top up for Change4Life School Sports Clubs, which target the least active children. But we can’t just rely upon government funding to make things happen.
Children of today are the workforce of tomorrow and there are some outstanding Responsibility Deal pledges – like the Danone Nations Cup, StreetGames supported by Coca Cola and Lloyds Bank National School Sports Week – that clearly show that business ‘gets it’. There is compelling evidence that active kids concentrate better in school and demonstrate greater levels of numeracy.
Government is doing its bit, but we all have a duty as parents, role models, volunteers and business leaders to encourage an active generation who can go on to create the kind of vibrant economy this country deserves.
Also this week the Prime Minister announced the twelve winners of a £94 million fund to create flagship cycling schemes in cities and national parks. In the eight cities Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford and Norwich the aim is to invest in a safer cycling infrastructure that will raise cycling levels to those of London. Four national parks, New Forest, Peak District, South Downs and Dartmoor, will receive investment to boost recreational cycling. The cities can bid against an additional Department of Health fund of £1 million to support walking alongside cycling, also announced yesterday.