Associate feature: Increasing physical activity requires strong leadership
With ‘healthy and active’ featuring as an outcome in the National Performance Framework and the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee calling physical activity “an investment not a cost”, you cannot argue that policy makers have failed to recognise the importance of increasing physical activity levels in Scotland.
But important and easy are not the same. Latest figures show that 34 per cent of adults in Scotland fail to meet the Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity a week. This includes 21 per cent of the adult population who are classified as very inactive, doing less than 30 minutes a week. In the last decade we continued to see welcome success in reducing harmful behaviours such as smoking and high alcohol consumption, but sustained progress in influencing positive behaviours like eating fruit and vegetables, and being more physically active has proven more challenging.
At sportscotland, we are committed to ensuring sport contributes to increasing physical activity levels, but are clear that sport is not a solution on its own. There is a need for cross-sectoral effort and collaboration. If we are to take physical inactivity seriously as a public health issue, we need the kind of leadership from the health sector and collective response across the public sector nationally and locally, that has been successful in reducing harmful behaviours.
The establishment of Public Health Scotland is a vitally important step in accelerating collaborative efforts to increase physical activity levels. I firmly believe sport is well placed to play its part in delivering across several of the public health priorities and especially priority six, “a Scotland where we eat well, have a healthy weight and are physically active”.
In the last five years, the sporting system has intentionally moved to align itself to Scottish Government’s Active Scotland Outcomes Framework, committed to getting more people, more active more often, while reducing the inequalities that exist within sport. We want to work with other sectors such as health, education, transport and the environment to do the same.
There are already many great examples of sports organisations collaborating with local health partners. Easterhouse Community Sport Hub has developed a link with their local GP practice, allowing the GPs and community link workers to refer patients to the range of sport and physical activity sessions offered by the sports clubs within the Hub.
Social prescription of sport and physical activity is a hot topic and an area where I expect to see real growth in coming years.
We have over 785,000 sports club members in Scotland, with independent research finding that 63 per cent of sports club members report that they are more active since joining a club and 91 per cent feel that their involvement has helped them feel healthier. Some will argue that sport only attracts the already active, but the evidence does not bear this out. Research shows that five per cent of sports club members reported not meeting the CMO guidelines for physical activity prior to joining a club, with nine per cent doing less than 30 minutes a week. Sport can play its part in assisting the inactive to become active.
NHS Tayside and Scottish Disability Sport recently announced an exciting new partnership to enable a patient pathway with opportunities for the inactive to become active and a specific focus on encouraging disabled and non-disabled people to be active together.
We need much more of this joint working across sectors and with new partners if we are going to create and sustain the upward trend in physical activity levels that we all want to achieve. Critically, these partnerships need to have strategic commitment as well as operational input and sport is already playing its part. Together we can make it happen.
Stewart Harris is Chief Executive of sportscotland
This piece was sponsored by sportscotland