800 years and at last, the first ever Parliamentary Debate on physical inactivity takes place at Westminster Hall

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18 November 2014


800 years and at last, the first ever Parliamentary Debate on physical inactivity takes place at Westminster Hall

MP's gathered together this morning in Westminster Palace for a historic parliamentary debate on physical inactivity, spearheaded by Nick Smith, MP for Blaenau Gwent.

ukactive's latest report, Steps to solving inactivity, was referred to throughout - in particular how it highlighted the growing issue of physical inactivity for the nation's health. MPs noted how the report had revealed 29 per cent of UK adults were physically inactive and that being inactive was as dangerous to health as smoking.

The debate was well attended and moved the discussion around the Parliamentary response to inactivity into the law-making spotlight for the first time. Sitting MPs were in agreement that government had a large role to play in kick-starting a reversal of the current trend towards inactivity.

The government representative for the debate Jane Ellison, member for Battersea, who is the government's Minister for Public Health, declared that physical inactivity was 'more important than obesity' and that physical inactivity should cease to be 'seen within the narrow prism of obesity.'

The Minister also noted that 'more had to be done' by national and central governments to highlight the issue of inactivity within central and local government; 'inactivity can't sit within a health silo,' she said.

Nick Smith highlighted in his opening remarks that: 'we have been successful in turning the tide on smoking,' and that the same priority must now be given to inactivity. He noted that we must 'walk, dance and play our way to wellbeing,' rather than maintaining a focus on competitive sport.

Luciana Berger, the shadow Minister for Public Health said that the government 'had to respond to lifestyle disease if the NHS was to remain financially viable.' Labour's leading light on issues of public health also said that the CMO's guidelines were 'too confusing' and was not getting through to the public.

Ian McKenzie, the member for Inverclyde, said that modern lifestyles played a big role to play in the increase in inactivity. He said: 'Many of us now have sedentary jobs where we sit down in front of a screen all day - then we go home and sit in front of a screen all evening too.

During the 90 minute debate, the first in Parliament's 800 year history, Justin Tomlinson MP argued that more needed to be done to provide usable open space for physical activity. The MP for North Swindon also lamented the lack of "PE confident teachers in primary schools" and said he would "welcome a move to encourage troops to become teachers". 

The debate also brought up the issue of the gender gap in physical activity participation rates, with Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles stating the "women are more inactive than men in every age group up to 65" and that there must be a recognition that women tend to favour "more informal sports like running and swimming over football".

MP for Romsey and Southampton and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image, Caroline Nokes picked up on the issue in her address saying that "fitness institutions must have a culture where instructors are welcoming" and that it is "important to encourage and not to 'fat shame'". On the subject of Olympic legacy she cautioned that "a feel good factor is not enough - we want genuine wellbeing to be our legacy ".

ukactive CEO David Stalker said "Parliament is now on board with the physical inactivity narrative  -  that's a clear indication of how far the pendulum has swung. It is a fitting endorsement at the tail end of a year where physical activity and public health decision makers have come together with policy leaders at conferences, regional forums and events up and down the country to understand and push forward on the big issues. We look forward to driving focus further in 2015 and beyond"

Today's parliamentary debate comes hot on the heels of the ukactive National summit, where Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burham put a 'physical activity revolution' at the heart of Labour's Election Manifesto, telling 450 delegates from the health and leisure sector that physical activity would be a 'priority for investment' and form the 'core focus' of the NHS's shift to preventative care.

His comments came the day after ukactive's Steps to solving inactivity report found that councils have allocating 4 per cent of their public health grant to tackling inactivity in 2014/15 compared to just 2per cent in 2013/14. New data also reveals that more than 70 per cent of councils have raised their allocated budget on physical activity.


About ukactive

ukactive is the UK's leading not-for-profit health body for  the physical activity sector, with over 3,500 members from activity providers to major consumer brands, training facilities and equipment manufacturers. Members come from across the private, public and third sector and are united by ukactive's longstanding and uncompromising commitment to getting more people, more active, more often.

ukactive facilitates big impact partnerships, conceives and drives breakthrough campaigns, conducts critical research and galvanises key stakeholders to develop and deliver key projects that support and champion the physical activity agenda. The organisation's efforts are centred around supporting a national ambition to "Turn the tide of physical inactivity"

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