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Government must tackle 'stark inequalities' in physical activity uptake a new BMA report warns

Doctors are calling on the Government to take urgent action to improve low levels of physical activity across the UK which is directly contributing to poor population health.

The new report1 published by the BMA today highlights the ‘stark inequalities’ between people living in deprived areas2 and the rest of the country. New analysis shows that 34 per cent of adults in the most deprived areas of England were classified as inactive, compared to the national average of 23 per cent.

It also highlights that BAME groups3, LGBT people4 and people living with disabilities5 came below the national average in physical activity levels and that women were less likely to exercise than men due to a variety of social, cultural and environmental factors.

The BMA is calling on the Government to implement changes to improve the uptake of physical activity, with a focus on tackling inequalities, across four key areas:

  • Travel: increase the cross-departmental government budget for active travel to £20 per head to cover the promotion of activities such as walking and cycling;
  • Leisure: provide local government with the resource to reverse budget cuts to open spaces and recreation facilities, with targeted additional investment in the most deprived local areas;
  • School: physical education needs to be recognised and protected as an essential part of the school curriculum;
  • Work: the NHS should act as an ‘anchor institution’ to encourage and facilitate active travel and set an example for other employers.

Responding to the report, BMA board of science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, said:

“As doctors, we see first-hand the negative impact of low levels of physical activity on the population’s health including the rise in hospital admissions as result of those living with preventable long-term conditions.

“It is unacceptable that the Government is not doing more to encourage greater levels of physical activity, particularly for those living in deprived areas and those groups of people where inequalities exist.

“Exercise has an enormous amount of health benefits, from the prevention and management of chronic diseases to improved mental health and increased social interaction, and should therefore be affordable and accessible to all.

“Clearly, the overall benefits of increased physical activities far outweigh the effort and resources required for the Government to make these important changes. Investing now in getting people more active will be cost-effective in the long run and drastically improve the nation’s health.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. Report ‘Get a Move on – steps to increase physical activity’ is attached. This will go live tomorrow at 9am – link here.
  2. In 2016/17, 34% of adults in the most deprived areas of England were classified as inactive, compared to the national average of 23%. Data sources: Sport England Active Lives Survey data[i] and Index of Multiple Deprivation 2019
  3. Compared to the average (23% in England), Asian (31%), Black (29%) and Other (30%) ethnic groups are more likely to be physically inactive - https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/health/exercise-and-activity/physical-inactivity/latest
  4. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and other sexual and gender identities) people are less likely to be active than the general population, with detrimental consequences for health. A survey by Pride Sports found that 55% of LGBT men and 56% of LGBT women are not active enough to maintain good health, as compared to 33% and 45% of the general male and female population respectively. 64% of LGBT people who did not identify as male or female (eg as genderfluid or genderqueer) were not active enough to maintain good health. The report identified that significant barriers to participation in sport are faced by LGBT people, including homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Pride Sports (2016). Sport, Physical Activity and LGBT. [Online]. Available at https://www.sportengland.org/media/11116/pride-sport-sport-physical-activity-and-lgbt-report-2016.pdf
  5. People with a disability or health condition are twice as likely to be inactive compared to people who do not have a disability. [1] Sport England (2018). Active Lives Adult Survey May 2017/18 report. [Online]. Available at https://www.sportengland.org/media/13768/active-lives-adult-may-17-18-report.pdf

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