Physical inactivity among today’s 11-25 year olds will cost the UK economy £53.3 billion over their lifetimes, according to a new StreetGames/Cebr report published today.
£8.1 billion of these costs are directly related to spending on healthcare that will be needed to deal with the burden of Type II diabetes, chronic heart disease, stroke and colon cancer among this cohort as they age. This equates to £1,800 in additional healthcare costs for each child and young person who is currently inactive, and is equivalent to more than half the total budget of NHS England in 2013-14.
The cost of reduced quality of life and lower life expectancy is even higher, at nearly £10,000 per child or young person. This amounts to £45.2 billion across the total population of children and young people who are currently failing to meet recommended levels of activity1.
The report found nearly half of all 11-25 year olds in England fail to achieve the Chief Medical Officer’s recommended targets for physical activity2 – 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 overstates activity levels.
Critically, children of both genders from lower income households are less likely to take part in sport. The report showed 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.
Jane Ashworth OBE, CEO of StreetGames, the national sports charity which commissioned the study, said: “This report lays bare the economic and social cost we will pay if we don’t get our young people moving. If we fail to address these issues it is akin to sitting on a time bomb. Helping young people in the most difficult circumstances take up a sporting habit for life is one of the most important things we can do.”
Dr William Bird, who wrote the foreword to the report, said: “Diseases like diabetes are on the increase, yet 80% of cases are preventable by making simple lifestyle changes. Our bodies were designed to be active and as soon as we become sedentary our ageing process accelerates and we create a perfect environment to initiate disease. Getting active can also improve mental health: active young people are more alert, and less likely to suffer from stress or depression. Physical activity is fundamental to young people developing normally and leading happy lives. We have to innovate and get young people moving earlier in their lives and then maintain that habit throughout adolescence and beyond.”
The work being undertaken by many different organisations, including StreetGames and its network of partners, is starting to make a difference and helping to address the sporting inequality gap. 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. The StreetGames/Cebr report found that a 1% increase in the number of children and young people meeting physical activity targets could save £800 million in today’s prices over their lifetimes. For many inactive young people sport will be the pathway to activity – they find it more pleasurable than other forms of activity such as walking or cycling to work or school.
But there is no room for complacency, as Ashworth continues: “We know young people want to play more sport but we have to innovate to make this happen. From consulting with thousands of young people across the UK, we’ve created sessions that meet their needs. Young people say to us that they want a vibrant and varied offer that requires little commitment and is more social than competitive. They tell us that they prefer this new style of sport – that we call ‘doorstep sport’ – to other traditional offers.”
For more information and a copy of the report, please visit Street Games’ website.
1 The cost of reduced quality of life and lower life expectancy is measured in Quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) and valued at the lower bound rate of £20,000. QALYs are a standardised measure of health gain, which takes into account both length and quality of life. For full methodology appendix, see pages 20/26/27 of the Cebr/StreetGames report.
2 Official guidelines recommend that children and young people aged 11-18 spend an hour of every day being physically active. This includes ‘moderate intensity’ activities, such as playground games, cycling and walking to school, or ‘higher intensity’ activities like running and football. These guidelines were set jointly by the four UK Chief Medical Officers, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-physical-activity-guidelines