Obesity Strategy – A case of more carrots, less hockey sticks.

This week the government released its Obesity Strategy. While a move towards active travel is to be welcomed, the government must look at wider sport and recreation alternatives and invest in the sector for the long-term.

‘We are going to get the country fit and healthy’ so declared the prime minister back in the spring. Recognising his hospitalisation with coronavirus was caused by his weight and lifestyle, Boris Johnson seems committed to getting the nation active and healthy.

Earlier this week we heard more from the government about how they plan to do this in their Obesity Strategy - published by Public Health England.

What's in the strategy?

The new strategy covers a wide range of areas designed to take long-term pressure off the NHS with targeted interventions on diet and junk food. These include:

  • A ban on promotional offers on high fat, salt and sugar foods
  • A ban on junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed
  • Expansion of weight management NHS services
  • Increased help with calorie counting in public venues such as pubs and restaurants

These are to be welcomed and we have seen through the Sugar Tax that done properly these measures can work and can also benefit sport. However, on the face of it, it does look like the strategy is more carrots and less hockey sticks.

Having said that, it’s not all bad news for physical activity. The strategy itself does show a long-term commitment at the highest levels of government to making sure the nation is more physically active and commits Public Health England to a campaign targeted at making sure the government can deliver this. This is great news.

Following the publication of the strategy the government announced that they would be promoting cycling and walking and investing £2 billion to help deliver the infrastructure to deliver this. They also announced a £50 ‘fix your bike’ fund for up to 50,000 people. This is great and has to be welcomed in the context of trying to introduce people to healthier and more active lifestyles.

However, while we do welcome this, it can only be the beginning. What we need in the long run is more carrots AND more hockey sticks - and golf clubs and tap shoes and rugby balls and swimming costumes and canoes and tennis rackets and yoga mats (you get the point!).

Our members deliver a wide range of sport and physical activity which benefits people’s mental health and wellbeing and as a sector we know the value that sport and physical activity can have in delivering long-term public health outcomes. For example, we know that physical inactivity costs the NHS £1 Billion per year and that one in six deaths are caused by physical inactivity.

As we continue to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic there has never been a better time to support this work and we would call on government to introduce a range of short and long-term measures to help deliver this.

Short-term measures

We hope that the steps announced to encourage people to travel in an active way, will be the first step on many people’s journey towards increased participation in sport and physical activity more broadly. If this is going to happen the government must support our sector to deliver it. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on grassroots sport and recreation have been devastating.

Many leisure centres and swimming pools have not yet been able to reopen despite the announcement that they can. They need support now to be able to deliver health outcomes and government must support these public facilities with funding.

The people needed to deliver these services are just as important. Jobs are under threat while these facilities are closed, and the government should look to extend support schemes to make sure the sector has the people available to deliver grassroots sport when they can return.

Long-term measures

These short-term measures are a must, but there needs to be long-term commitment also. This must start in the Autumn with the Spending Review, where government should fund a national sport and physical activity infrastructure plan. The Treasury must give DCMS the money to invest in both the physical and human resources infrastructure that our sector needs to emerge as the solution to this crisis and not be a victim of it. Back us and we’ll deliver!

The last line of the strategy says ‘together we want to empower people to live the healthy lives they want to live’, the wider sport and physical activity sector is ready to support the government in delivering this strategy together. If the government really is committed to tackling obesity, then now is the time to support us.

To support the recovery of our sector from Covid-19. To make sure that there are jobs. To make sure we have world class facilities. But most of all to make sure that they support the expertise we know we have as a sector to deliver a healthy, active and happy nation.

The Obesity Strategy was one of a number of stories covered in the latest edition of the Westminster Round-Up which is now free to view for Sport and Recreation Alliance members.