Sport and exercise science and medicine: building on the Olympic legacy to improve the nation's health - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Sport and exercise science and medicine: building on the Olympic legacy to improve the nation's health

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

Purpose of the inquiry

1.  With the backdrop of the London 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Committee decided to conduct a short inquiry into sport and exercise science and medicine. Our purpose was to investigate two fundamental questions:

  • how robust is the research and evidence base for improving the performance of elite and non-elite athletes (in a wide range of sports)?
  • how can this knowledge be translated into treatments and preventative interventions to improve the nation's health?



2.  The London bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games promised to "offer more than just 17 days of spectacular sport";[1] and, in 2005, the London 2012 bid committee made a commitment to deliver a lasting legacy.[2] In May 2010, the Coalition Agreement said, in relation to the Games, that the Government would "urgently form plans to deliver a genuine and lasting legacy".[3] Later that year, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published a document entitled Plans for the legacy from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It focused on four areas of potential legacy:

  • "to increase grass roots participation" in sports "particularly by young people", "and to encourage the whole population to be more physically active";
  • "economic growth";
  • "community engagement" to "bring people together over a national event"; and
  • "regeneration in East London".[4]

3.  Dame Tessa Jowell MP, former Olympics Minister and member of the bid committee, explained that the (then) Government had a "driving ambition" to host "the first Olympic Games which could point to a public health legacy". The goal of increasing participation in sport was "not just about increasing participation in sport for the sake of it ... it was also to tackle one of the most serious health epidemics facing the UK, that of obesity".[5] The important health benefits of physical activity underpin the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games legacy commitment: "the nation will be healthier, happier and more active".[6] This legacy commitment is of particular significance not only because of the increasing evidence testifying to the risks associated with sedentary lifestyles,[7] but also because, according to the Department of Health (DH), the costs of providing medical care as a consequence of the UK's physical inactivity "epidemic" are not sustainable. They estimate that the direct cost of physical inactivity to a Primary Care Trust is £5 million a year and that the direct and indirect costs of physical inactivity in England are approximately £8.2 billion a year.[8]

4.  A further aim of the Olympic legacy is "maintaining world-class performance" of the UK's elite sportsmen and women.[9] UK Sport, the UK's high performance agency, seeks to improve the performance of the UK's elite athletes. They work with over 1,400 elite athletes to increase the UK's chances of success in major sporting competitions and one aspect of this work, through their research and innovation team, is sport science.[10]


5.  DH define physical activity as including "all forms of activity, such as everyday walking or cycling to get from A to B, active play, work-related activity, active recreation (such as working out in a gym), dancing, gardening or playing active games, as well as organised and competitive sport"(see Figure 1 below).[11]


What is physical activity?[12]


6.  As part of their commitment to ensure a lasting public health legacy from the Games and to improve support for both elite and non-elite athletes, the Government have promised to expand training, recruitment and services in sport and exercise medicine, and to establish a National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine (NCSEM).[13] In funding the NCSEM, DH expect it to "become a hub of clinical and research expertise to:

  • increase exercise in the community;
  • develop strategies to prevent diseases related to inactivity; and
  • prevent, diagnose and manage injuries for both professional and amateur athletes".[14]

We consider the NCSEM further in paragraph 48.

Areas outside the scope of this inquiry

7.  In July 2011, we published a report into behaviour change in which the subject of one of the case studies was interventions, including physical activity, to tackle obesity.[15] To avoid overlap, we have limited the scope of this inquiry to exclude behaviour change where it relates to encouraging participation in sport. Since the focus of this inquiry is the science of improving human performance, we have also excluded technologies and work to enhance sports equipment.


8.  A targeted call for evidence was sent to the Government, its agencies with responsibility for sport, health and research, and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in May 2012. The call for evidence was also published on our website. Twenty-three submissions were received. The call for evidence is set out in Appendix 3. In March 2012, we held a seminar on sport science, a note of which is set out in Appendix 4. In May 2012, we held a seminar on the Olympic public health legacy. A note of this seminar is set out in Appendix 5. In June 2012, we held five oral evidence sessions.


9.  The membership and interests of the Committee are set out in Appendix 1, and those who submitted written and oral evidence are listed in Appendix 2. We are grateful to all those who assisted us in our work.

10.  Finally, we are grateful to our Specialist Adviser, Professor Ian Macdonald, Professor of Metabolic Physiology in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham, for his expertise and guidance during this inquiry. We stress, however, that the conclusions we draw and the recommendations we make are ours alone.

1  Back

2   IbidBack

3   Cabinet Office: The Coalition: our programme for government, May 2010. Back

4   DCMS: Plans for the legacy from the 2012 Olympic and Paralymic Games, December 2010. Back

5   D Campbell: 'Will London's Olympic public health legacy turn to dust?', British Medical Journal, June 2012.  Back

6   London 2012: Response to the questionnaire for cities applying to become Candidate cities to host the Games of the XXX Olympiad and the Paralympic Games in 2012Back

7   NHS: Sport and Exercise Medicine: A Fresh Approach, April 2012. By "sedentary lifestyles", we mean, for example, reliance on transport rather than walking, increased number of hours spent watching television or in front of a computer, and the rise in the number of hours spent at a desk rather than in manual labour. Back

8   Ibid. Back

9   DCMS: Beyond 2012-The London 2012 Legacy Story, March 2012. Back

10   UK Sport, Q 70. Back

11   DH: Start Active, Stay Active: A report on physical activity from the four home countries' Chief Medical Officers, July 2011.


12   IbidBack

13   DH, DCMS. Back

14 Back

15   House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 2nd Report (Session 2010-12): Behaviour Change (HL Paper 179). Back

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