Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence




  1.  Sport: A Force For Good

  2.  Counting the Cost of Less Active Lives

  3.  Increasing Sporting Participation Rates

  4.  The Need to Revitalise School Sport

  5.  Policies to Promote Sport and Improve Health

  Appendix: Source Material


    "Sport means all forms of physical activity which through casual or organised participation aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels" Council of Europe: European Sports Charter, 1993.

The Importance of Sport

  1.1  Sport has always been important to this country. It provides enjoyment for millions of participants and spectators: it unites the country behind individual competitors and teams; and success can generate a "feel-good" factor that gives the whole nation a lift.

  1.2  In recent years, research has demonstrated that sport can also make a more tangible contribution to the country's well-being. For example:

    (i)  evidence from OFSTED1 shows that schools which take sport seriously generate faster-than-average improvements in academic results;

    (ii)  research by the Leisure Industries Research Centre2 has recorded sizeable increases in the number of jobs and the amount of wealth that sport now creates; and

    (iii)  In 1999, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee3 accepted, on the basis of "authoritative research", that exercise and participation in sport help to combat social exclusion".


  1.3  The CMS Select Committee concluded, at the same time, that sporting activity also improves people's health. 4 This message was subsequently endorsed by (i) the Government White Paper Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation, 5 which noted that sport can improve both physical and mental well-being, and (ii) the Conservative Party's "blue paper" A Future for Sport, published in January 2000, which argued that sport is "vitally important to the health of the nation".

  1.4  The Prime Minister has since stated that sport can help the Government achieve its objectives on a number of different fronts. As he said in September6, the investment of Lottery money in sport "is not just a sports policy, it's a health policy, an education policy, an anti-crime policy, [and] an anti-drugs policy" as well.

  1.5  Sport England welcomes this growing cross-party realisation that sport is not only important in itself, but can play a key role in tackling important social issues.

  1.6  In particular, we believe that sport can help to improve public health and, in the process, (i) increase people's quality of life and (ii) reduce the burdens on the National Health Service.

  1.7  In short, we believe that, in future, the promotion of sport and physical activity should be seen as an integral element within policies to improve public health.


People's less active lives

  2.1  In our view, it has never been more important to promote the benefits of sport and physical activity. Economic changes mean that fewer people are engaged in physically active jobs, and social trends (such as increased car use and the growing availability of labour-saving devices) have also resulted in people leading less active lives.

  2.2  At the same time, there has been a rapid increase in the number of ways in which people can spend their leisure time. As a result, sport has to compete against a growing range of other leisure activities—many of which involve little or no physical activity. For example, many boys, in particular, now spend much of their free time playing computer games7.

  2.3  Such trends have resulted in the British people, as a whole, leading increasingly sedentary lives—as a number of different surveys, conducted over the last 10 years, have shown. For example:

    (i)  a1990 survey, conducted by the GB Sports Council and the Health Education Authority, found that most people were insufficiently active for them to derive any health benefits from their lifestyles. The activity levels recommended by the HEA (now the Health Development Agency) were not being met by seven out of 10 men and eight out of 10 women8;

    (ii)  the Department of Health's 1997 Health Survey for England: The Health of Young People found that a third of boys aged 2-7, and 38 per cent of girls of the same age, were not meeting the Government's recommended activity guidelines; and

    (iii)  a MORI survey, commissioned by Sport England and released earlier this year, revealed a sharp decline, over the previous five years, in the amount of physical education that schoolchildren are receiving. For instance, the proportion spending two hours or more in PE lessons each week fell from 46 to 33 per cent between 1994 and 19999. (On the same basis, the decline amongst pupils in primary years 2-4 was even sharper—with the proportion falling from 32 to 11 per cent).

Obesity: a growing problem

  2.4  Other surveys have shown how public health is being affected by these trends. In particular, obesity is becoming an increasingly serious by-product of people's less active lives:

    (i)  the proportion of obese people doubled during the 1980s10;

    (ii)  between 1994 and 1998, there were substantial increases in the number of men and women suffering from obesity. In England, the proportion of the population who were obese rose from 13.8 to 17.3 per cent among men and 17.3 to 21.1 per cent among women; 11 and

    (iii)  eight per cent of British four year-olds are now obese—as are 17 per cent of 15 year-olds. Moreover, obesity among children is on a sharply rising trend. As the British Heart Foundation explained in a recent publication12. "These figures represent an alarmingly fast increase, with the number of obese six year-olds doubling in the last 10 years and the number of obese 15 year-olds more than trebling".

  2.5  As the BHF has pointed out, the growing prevalence of obesity represents a major threat to the health of the nation, as it is associated with problems like high blood pressure, raised blood cholesterol, and non-insulin dependent diabetes—all of which bring an increased risk of coronary heart disease. (Research has shown that such serious problems are becoming apparent in obese children as young as nine13).

Tackling Ill-health Through Sport

  2.6  We share the BHF's view that physical activity (along with healthy eating) is one of the key ways of tackling obesity. But physical activity can ameliorate a number of other health problems, too. For example:

    (i)  it reduces—significantly—the risk of coronary heart disease. Indeed, people who are physically active are half as likely to suffer from CHD as their inactive counterparts14;

    (ii)  scientific evidence suggests that weight-bearing exercise (such as gymnastics, aerobics and dance) helps to maintain bone mass—not least amongst elderly people. As a result, those who take part in such activity are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis, which results in about 60,000 hip and 50,000 wrist fractures a year15;

    (iii)  there is evidence to suggest that increased levels of physical activity reduce a person's vulnerability to both strokes and certain types of cancer16; and

    (iv)  regular exercise has been found to improve psychological, as well as physical, well-being. It is associated with measurable increases in self-esteem among both adults and children, and leads to a reduced risk of mild to moderate depression17. As the Government acknowledged in Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation "A physically active lifestyle.....promotes good mental health"18.

  2.7  ccordingly, sport can play a major role in helping the Government meet many of its key health targets, such as (i) reducing the death rate from suicide, and undetermined injury by at least a fifth and (ii) cutting, by at least a third, the death rate from heart disease, stroke and related illnesses among people aged under 65.

Sport: Cost-effective Preventative Medicine

  2.8  For all these reasons, there is a strong case for increasing, in the interests of public health, the importance attached to the promotion of physical and sporting activity. There is an equally persuasive economic case for doing so. Evidence from Britain and other countries suggests that improvements in individuals' fitness benefit not only the people concerned but their employers and, more generally, the country as a whole:

    (i)  a 1986 review of exercise initiatives in North America put the average financial benefit, to the company, at $513 per worker per year19;

    (ii)  Cyanamaid, a large UK pharmaceutical firm, found that those employees who participated in its fitness programme took appreciably less sickness leave than their less active colleagues—with savings amounting to around £890 per participating employee per year20; and

    (iii)  recent figures from the United States, where 14 per cent of all deaths can be attributed to diet and activity patterns, have shown that massive cost savings would be made if those leading sedentary lifestyles could be persuaded to increase their levels of physical activity. Indeed, the research concluded that the direct and indirect costs of physical inactivity in the USA "may well be in excess of $150 billion", as the medical costs associated inactive members of the community are, on average, 30 per cent higher than for those who lead physically active lives21.

  2.9  In the United Kingdom, as in the United States, sport has enormous scope to act as a form of highly effective—and cost-effective—preventative medicine.


"More People, More Places, More Medals"

  3.1  Sport England is determined to ensure that more people have the opportunity to take part in sport—and then choose to do so. Our three key objectives are "More People, More Places, More Medals", as we want to (i) maximise sporting participation rates, (ii) improve the country's facilities base, and (iii) let our up-and-coming and top sportsmen and women compete effectively on the world stage.

  3.2  We believe that this triple-pronged approach can create a virtuous circle of sporting success. Over time, improved facilities will help to increase sporting participation rates; in turn, rising participation rates will give the country a bigger talent pool; and the more talented performers we have, the better our chances of having medal and title-winning sportsmen and women, whose achievements will encourage (i) more people to participate in sport and (ii) more schools and local authorities to provide good sporting facilities.

Creating a "level playing field"

  3.3  While Sport England is keen to encourage everyone to take part in sport, we are conscious that we do not begin with a "level playing field". Research22 has revealed that sports participation rates vary from one group to another:

    (i)  boys are more likely to participate in out-of-school sport than girls;

    (ii)  similarly, men are more likely to participate in sport than women;

    (iii)  the proportion of sports participants is higher in the South than the North;

    (iv)  members of the top socio-economic groups are far more likely to (a) participate in sport, (b) join a sports club, and (c) use local authority pools and sports halls than those in other socio-economic groupings; and

    (v)  in general, disabled people and members of ethnic minority communities are less likely to take part in sport or use local authority sports facilities than other members of society.

  3.4  Such findings have influenced the way in which Sport England works—not least in its capacity as a Lottery distributor. Indeed, our ten-year Lottery strategy23, published last year, explained how we will use Lottery funding to help tackle the inequities that our research has identified. For example:

    (i)  we have since worked with other Lottery distributors to create the "Awards for All" scheme, which provides small grants to small, local groups which had not previously benefited from Lottery funding;

    (ii)  we set a number of targets for our Community Projects Fund—such as, over the ten-year period, (a) making at least 5,000 awards that will significantly benefit disabled people, (b) ensuring that at least half the sports schemes we fund will specifically increase the participation of women and girls, and (c) ensuring that a minimum of 350 capital awards go to facilities which, because of their location, will significantly benefit people from ethnic minority communities;

    (iii)  In April, we intend to launch an Active Communities Development Fund to support projects (a) seeking to use sport as a means of tackling social exclusion and (b) aimed at addressing under-representation in sporting activity by low income groups, ethnic minorities and people with a disability; and

    (iv)  we are creating a number of Sports Action Zones in which, using our new powers of solicitation (granted under the National Lottery Act 1998), we can pro-actively identify and assist areas of particular recreational deprivation.

Implementing a ten-year strategy for sport

  3.5  Good progress is being made with the Strategy's implementation:

    (i)  so far, almost 4,900 awards (amounting to £15,359,979) have been made to English sports projects under "Awards for All",

    (ii)  the first Sports Action Zones were designated in January 2000; the first Zone managers are already in place; and the next tranche of SAZs will be announced in 2002-03; and

    (iii)  "before" and "after" monitoring of our Lottery-funded projects has shown that, on average, Lottery funding has generated substantial increases in facility usage. On average, the level of usage has more than doubled—with attendance by women and young people rising threefold.

  3.6  In addition, Sport England has used its Exchequer funding to launch a number of projects to encourage more girls to become—and then remain—physically active. They include GirlSport, which advises them on joining (or forming) a sports club.

  3.7  We believe that, taken together, such initiatives (and the wider elements of our Active Schools, Active Sports and Active Communities programmes) will help us reach our wider targets for sport in England—like achieving a 20 per cent increase in the number of adults taking part in regular sporting activity. The achievement of such objectives will (i) significantly improve public health as a whole and (ii) enable the Government to achieve its objective of "narrowing the health gap" in society.


The Importance of Sport for School-aged Children

  4.1  While Sport England is particularly keen to increase sporting participation rates among a number of different social groups, to reduce existing inequities, our top priority is to get young people to lead more active lives.

  4.2  For a whole host of reasons, it is vital to increase sporting activity rates among school-aged children. For example:

    (i)  sport can provide them with a personally and socially beneficial outlet for their energy and competitiveness';

    (ii)  it can teach them lessons that will serve them well for the rest of their lives—such as the importance of teamwork, respect for rules and winning and losing with equally good grace; and

    (iii)  it can provide them with invaluable opportunities, for self-expression, and a way for less academically-gifted pupils, in particular, to increase their self-esteem.

  4.3  Increased sporting participation rates are important on health, as well as social and educational grounds. School sport and PE have a particularly important role to play at a time when:

    (i)  only 1 per cent of schoolchildren now cycle to school, 24

    (ii)  fewer than 50 per cent of pupils now walk to school25, and

    (iii)  PE lessons are the only physical activity in which 30 per cent of 11-16 year-olds are participating on a regular basis26.

Links between activity levels in childhood and later life

  4.4  The promotion of school sport and PE is a wise investment for the future, as there is a clear link between having an active childhood and being physically active in later life. While a sizeable proportion of active children become active adults, only 2 per cent of inactive teenagers become physically active in adulthood27.

  4.5  Although the health benefits of physical activity have become well established, we believe that too little has been done, over many years, to promote sport and physical education in schools. Indeed, a poor situation seems to have been growing worse. For example, a 1993 survey28 showed that secondary schools in England (and Wales) were allocating less time to physical education than their counterparts in every other EU country—and subsequent research by MORI29, published in 2000, indicated that there had been a further deterioration in the quality and quantity of physical education, in both primary and secondary schools, over the period 1994-99.

  4.6  As previously indicated, 33 per cent of boys and 38 per cent of girls aged 2-7 are not meeting their age group's recommended activity guidelines. However, while these statistics are alarming enough, the situation becomes even more serious among older children—particularly girls. On the whole, girls' activity levels tend to drop sharply between the ages of eight and ten and, by the time they reach 15 years of age, almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of them are classed as "inactive". (Activity levels among boys tend to peak between the ages of 10 and 13, before declining during adolescence) 30.

Action by Sport England

  4.7  A number of reasons have been put forward to explain this unsatisfactory state of affairs. They include: the sell-off of many school playing fields; the emphasis on literacy and numeracy resulting in physical education being squeezed out of the curriculum; the poor state of school-club links; and the lack of time devoted to physical education within initial teacher training (ITT). Sport England hopes that policy-makers will address each of these issues as a matter of urgency—and we have set out (in section 5) some of the policies that, in our view, are prerequisites for the much-needed revival of school sport.

  4.8  In the meantime, Sport England is taking action on a number of fronts to increase both the quality and the quantity of the sporting opportunities available to young people. For example, our Active Schools programme includes:

    (i)  Coaching for Teachers, which enhances teachers' skills by giving them opportunities to develop their sports coaching ability and obtain recognised qualifications.

    (ii)  Panathlon, which enables schools in inner-city areas, lacking the facilities to stage competitive events themselves, to take part in inter-school sporting competitions;

    (iii)  the Sportsmark scheme, which gives proper recognition to the secondary and special schools providing a quality physical education and sports programme to their students—and the wider community. (The Activemark initiative provides a similar service to primary schools); and

    (iv)  Sportsearch, an interactive computer programme, which enables young people to assess their personal aptitude for particular sports and make contact with local clubs in their area.

  4.9  In addition, we funded and organised the Millennium Youth Games, which involved over 250,000 12 to 15 year old children and culminated, in August, in an Olympic-style Grand Final in Southampton—the biggest event of its kind in the world.

  4.10  However, the Lottery-funded School Sports Co-ordinators programme is perhaps Sport England's most ambitious initiative—aiming to bolster after-school activities, promote inter-school sports fixtures, and strengthen school-club links. The first 140 Co-ordinators took up their posts at the beginning of the new school year (in September), and it is hoped to have 1,000 in place within four years.


"A Sporting Future for All"

  5.1  Sport England welcomed the many positive proposals contained in the Government's sports strategy, A Sporting Future for All31, published earlier this year. It outlined numerous policies that should increase sporting participation rates among young people and reduce the numbers who subsequently drop out of sport because of inadequate facilities or coaching.

  5.2  The policies outlined in the Strategy include:

    (i)  an increase in the number of Specialist Sports Colleges;

    (ii)  enhanced coaching for talented 14-18 year-olds; and

    (iii)  a commitment that at least 20 per cent of Sport England's Lottery income should be allocated to youth sport.

  5.3  As the Strategy explained, such policies should have a positive effect on public health, by broadening participation in sport.

Further steps forward

  5.4  Sport England hopes that policy-makers will build on the Sports Strategy in the years ahead. We have put forward a number of proposals that could, in our view, complement the Strategy and build a brighter future for English sport. For example:

    (i)  we believe that the Government's "aspiration" on physical education—that schools should provide two hours of curricular or extra-curricular activities per week—is insufficiently ambitious. Not only should this level of activity be a firm commitment, rather than an "aspiration", but it should—in our view—be achieved within school hours, and not through a combination of intra-and extra-curricular time;

    (ii)  we are concerned that, at present, as little as six hours' training and professional development can be devoted to physical education within full-time Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses—although it is widely believed that a figure of 60 hours would be more appropriate. There is a strong case, therefore, for setting a minimum, substantial time that should be allocated to PE Training within ITT;

    (iii)  a number of further changes could protect more playing fields from development. For instance: (a) Sport England could get involved in planning issues at an earlier stage in proceedings by becoming a statutory consultee in the development plan process; (b) the current review of a Planning Policy Guidance note (PPG17) should create an opportunity to ensure that playing pitch assessments become statutory elements of any local plan review; and (c) there may be a case for reconsidering the situation under which Sport England is not a statutory consultee in cases where it is proposed to develop playing fields that local authorities have closed (and from which the public have been excluded) for a five year period:

    (iv)  the outdated and anomalous Recreational Charities Act 1958 could be modernised, to put sport on a level footing with the arts and enable more amateur sports clubs to secure charitable status—which would reduce their tax bills and increase people's willingness to give them time, money and advice (as they would know that they were helping organisation adjudged to be pursuing charitable objectives); and

    (v)  as we have previously suggested (in a submission to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee). Lottery distributors should be able to provide applicants with loans, rather than grants, in a limited number of cases—to help our Lottery income go further.

  5.5  In its report Couch Kids: The Growing Epidemic, published earlier this year, the British Heart Foundation made a number of similar recommendations and the Central Council of Physical Recreation's recently published draft sports manifesto, Towards an Active Britain, also contains a number of sensible proposals which would increase sport's ability to improve public health.

  5.6  We hope the Committee finds this submission both interesting and informative, and would be happy to answer any questions that its Members may have.



  1.  Sports Colleges: The First Two Years, July 2000.

  2.  The Economic Impact of Sport.

  3.  Staging International Sporting Events, May 1999.

  4.  Ibid.

  5.  Cm 4386, July 1999.

  6.  Brighton, 26 September 2000.

  7.  See Young People and Health, Health Education Authority, 1999.

  8.  Allied Dunbar National Fitness Survey.

  9.  Young People and Sport in England.

  10.  Health Survey for England: Cardiovascular Disease, 1996.

  11.  Ibid.

  12.  Couch Kids: The Growing Epidemic, 2000.

  13.  Obesity: The Report of the British Nutrition Foundation Task Force, 1999.

  14.  British Medical Journal, 304 p 597-601.

  15.  See the Value of Sport to the Health of the Nation, Sport England, 1999, p. 11.

  16.  Ibid, p 12.

  17.  Ibid, p 11.

  18.  Para 3.50.

  19.  Economic benefits of enhanced fitness, R Shepherd, 1986.

  20.  Get fit for business, research paper from the Fitness Industry Association.

  21.  The Physician and Sportsmedicine , Volume 28, Number 10, October 2000.

  22.  See The Value of Sport to the Health of the Nation, p7-9.

  23.  Investing for our Sporting Future, May 1999.

  24.  Young People and Sport in England, 1999.

  25.  Ibid.

  26.  British Journal of Physical Education, Volume 28, Number 3, p21-24.

  27.  Allied Dunbar National Fitness Survey, 1992.

  28.  British Journal of Physical Education, Volume 24, Number 3, p26-27.

  29.  Young People and Sport in England, 1999.

  30.  Health Survey for England: The Health of Young People 1995-97.

  31.  April 2000.

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