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The social and economic value of sport and physical activity is likely to be greater than reported findings showing a contribution of £85.5bn annually, leading researchers have told the ukactive National Summit.

The figure formed the headline finding in September’s report from Sport England and the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, but author Dr Larissa Davies told policymakers and business leaders that previous estimates had undervalued the contribution and the true value could be even greater if more evidence is shared by the sector.

Discussing the findings at the National Summit yesterday (11 November), Dr Davies, from Sheffield Hallam University, said: “This is a conservative model that values sport and physical activity, and as better evidence becomes available we can update it.

“This research shows that sport and physical activity really does demonstrate significant value to society, and across multiple outcomes simultaneously.

“It’s clear from the research that it’s important for the economy and wider society to have a healthy, happy, well-balanced society. Participation and engagement in sport and physical activity drives that, therefore, the message and the recommendation has to be to support and invest in opportunities to make physical activity available to all.

“I would recommend this kind of work is updated periodically to incorporate the latest evidence.”

Andrew Spiers, Strategic Lead, Research and Analysis, at Sport England, said: “This piece of work clearly demonstrates a great deal of both intrinsic and instrumental value from sport and physical activity.

“It can be incredibly enjoyable but it can also improve the health of the nation, generate jobs, drive economic outcomes, strengthen communities, improve people’s employment prospects and educational attainment, and a whole range of other things.

“The research also proves there is a positive return on the investment we put into sport and physical activity – for every £1 we spend on sport and physical activity, we get £4 back.

“The need for us to support and drive levels of engagement in equitable ways is the key thing to take away.”

The pair were speaking during the second week of November’s National Summit, in a session entitled, ‘Measuring and creating effective interventions in health and wellbeing’.

Their conversation was followed by a panel discussion chaired by Dr Matthew Wade, Head of Research at the ukactive Research Institute, which also featured Jess Kuehne, Senior Programme Manager, Healthy Ageing, at the Centre for Ageing Better; and Dr Lawrence Foweather, Senior Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University.

The panel shared views on the latest findings and innovations, open data, and opportunities for collaboration with other sectors to support the health and wellbeing of the public more effectively.

Jess Kuehne said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how underrated physical activity is as an intervention.”

The group also discussed best practice to make the most of research in future, with Jess adding: “Effective interventions must include larger sample sizes to make sure all population groups are represented.”

Dr Lawrence Foweather said: “Sometimes we might dismiss a programme as not being effective, but that may be down to the implementation.”

He added that “prioritising your outcomes for evaluation in a programme is really important”.

National Summit webinars will run every Wednesday from 2pm throughout November, in partnership with Sport England, the City of London Corporation and the ukactive Strategic Partners Group, and are free to attend.

The series will continue on Wednesday 18 November with a webinar titled ‘Placemaking for better social, economic and public health outcomes’. The session will explore how city centres, high streets, housing developments, businesses and the wider built environment can contribute to creating healthier, more active and socially connected communities.

To watch a recording of the latest webinar or catch up on last week’s webinar click here.

For more information on the ukactive National Summit and to book your free place on each of the sessions, visit the National Summit website.