A New All-Party Commission Report on Physical Activity

Post date: 08-Apr-2014 13:22:09

Today (8th, April, 2014) saw the release of the first of two reports from the Commission which aims to set out the scope of the problem and identify areas that require change. The report can be found here, or I have posted my own copy here.

Over the last six months, the All-Party Commission on Physical Activity has held five evidence sessions taking oral evidence from over 40 organisations and individuals across four key sectors – Health, Sport, Transport & Urban Planning, and Education; hosting two evidence sessions for MPs and Peers; and receiving over 150 submissions of written evidence from a range of stakeholders.

The commission is chaired by MPs from all 3 parties alongside Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, a crossbench peer, and the report has been supported by a coalition of multi-sector organisations, including British Heart Foundation, Lawn Tennis Association, Sustrans, Nike, Premier League, and The Young Foundation.

The report draws on The Human Capital Model to highlight the importance of physical activity, originally devised by by Nike Inc and constructed as an attempt to represent all of the benefits of physical activity under one umbrella concept.

The areas identified by the Commission as being vital for action were as follows (see report summary for more detail):

  1. A National Action Plan
  2. Getting the message out
  3. Designing physical activity back in to everyday life
  4. Making physical activity a lifelong habit
  5. Proving success

All content seems pretty sensible on first read but the impact of the report will depend on how much influence this Commission can have on the policies both outlined and delivered by current and future governments. The danger is that it becomes another report that says all of the right things but doesn't manage to stimulate any action or changes. If I was being cynical I could draw attention to the fact that the phrase "Action Plan" is an oxymoron, and while all good initiatives need to be planned out in advance, at some point organisations and individuals need to make things happen. Similarly these organisations and individuals need more than knowledge of healthy choices to instigate behaviour change.

It was however, encouraging to see a range of organisations represented in the development of the Commission's Report with Sustrans and The British Heart Foundation being strong advocates of sport as only part of the physical activity continuum. Unfortunately, as Stuart Biddle pointed out on twitter, the images used in the report are all of children and mostly children doing sport so although this may be a relatively minor point in terms of the work the Commission hopes to achieve, it does not particularly fill me with confidence. In the report, the Commission recommend that "...an innovative approach to behaviour change is necessary. Simply focusing on public health messages alone will not be sufficient to change the cultural and behavioural norms that have developed around physical activity". Producing a report that, in its design, ignores the importance of physical activity across the ages, and reinforces the concept that physical activity is mostly sport does not do much to change ingrained cultural and behavioural norms.

It's probably true that success in increasing physical activity levels "...cannot be left just to government..." and that "...front-line professionals, national public health bodies, as well as the third and private sectors will ensure the message reaches the right audiences", but we should also acknowledge that most of the latter professionals and bodies rely heavily on funding from central government still, despite attempts to relinquish this.