THE BLOG

The UK's £53billion Inactivity Time Bomb

01/04/2014 14:21 BST | Updated 31/05/2014 10:59 BST

This morning we published a new report with the Centre for Economics and Business Research which found that physical inactivity among today's 11-25 year olds will cost the UK economy £53billion over their lifetimes. This economic impact sits alongside the horror of early death and reduced years of healthy life that go along with an inactive life.

I've written before about how physical inactivity doesn't always get the profile it deserves and our hope is that this new study will focus attention on what is one of the most critical health issues facing our nation in the 21st century.

The report found nearly half of all 11-25 year olds in England don't make the Chief Medical Officer's recommended targets for physical activity - over 4.5m individuals. Overall, girls and young women are less active: 56% fail to meet recommended activity levels compared to 39% of boys and young men. The study highlights that the overall picture may be even worse: accelerometry data collected alongside self-reported activity levels suggests that self-reporting data actually overstates activity levels.

Critically, children of both genders from lower income households are less likely to take part in sport. The report shows that children from lower income households are less likely to take part in formal sports activities such as organised team games of rugby, cricket or netball, swimming, gymnastics, aerobics and tennis.

There is also a strong negative relationship between household income and the proportion of total household spending which is on recreational sport. The poorest households spend just a tenth of the amount that the richest households spend on sport activities, services and equipment each week, equating to less than £2 per week.

The consequences of failing to address this inactivity are very serious. There is an economic cost, which this report quantifies. There is also a human cost. We know a lot about the causes of early death in the UK: obesity is responsible for 6%, smoking for 10% and hypertension for 15%. However, it is low cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) that is responsible for the most premature death. In all, 16% of all early deaths among men and 17% among women are attributable to low CRF.

Almost all young people would benefit from participating in sport more often, but those from lower income households - where health inequalities are greatest and where participation in sport is lowest - would benefit most from a more active lifestyle. A young man growing up in one of the UK's disadvantaged communities 2007-10 is expected to die almost 15 years earlier than a more affluent peer.

Regular participation in sport is lowest in these areas where physical activity is lowest and early morbidity highest. According to Sport England surveys, young people from the lowest socio-economic group are around half as likely to regularly play sport compared with those in the highest socio-economic group.

Sport is not the same as physical activity. It is a subset that many disadvantaged people want to make a component of their healthier, more active lifestyle. They are denied the chance to take part because of their socio-economic status. Many organisations, including StreetGames, reduce this sporting inequality. The latest Sport England survey data shows that since April 2012 the number of young people from the lowest socio-economic groups in England taking part in sport every week has risen by 51,100, from 1,140,600 to 1,191,700. But there is much more we can all do to help the remaining 1.2 million inactive disadvantaged youngsters to get moving.

From the largest Government departments to the smallest community project, organisations need to support more people to get active and to stay active. In doing so, we can create not only a healthier and happier society but a richer one too.

With the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, we have another high profile opportunity to focus attention on the need for young people to get active. For our part, we will be running over 200 'pop up' doorstep sports clubs across the UK in the run up to the Games. These clubs will bring a variety of sports to the doorsteps of young people living in disadvantaged communities across the UK. They are in addition to the 1,000 permanent doorstep sport clubs we're setting up across the country.

If you'd like to read the full report, please check it out here and share your thoughts using the hashtag #InactivityTimeBomb.