By ukactive CEO Steven Ward
Today (6 April) sees the introduction of the Sugar Tax in Britain, a new tax on sugary drinks, designed by Government to tackle the rising obesity endemic. But while we know that figures from Public Health England show that 63% of the adult population is classified as overweight or obese, we also know that the health problems often associated with obesity do not discriminate.
I welcome the debate around diet and reducing sugar in our daily lives, but I also urge caution when focusing purely on this as the way to improve lives and reduce pressure on our creaking NHS. Diet is one part of a critical triumvirate: nutrition, physical activity and mental health. My message to government is that you cannot solve our health crisis by focusing efforts on obesity. This issue must not be seen purely through the prism of obesity.
The obsession with waistlines could be lethal. Physical inactivity is the silent killer, linked to more than 20 deadly conditions, from cancer and type 2 diabetes to coronary heart disease and strokes.
Research by ukactive shows that getting over-65s active could save the NHS £12bn and prevent 600,000 major diseases over the next 10 years. Our research also shows that schoolchildren are losing 80% of fitness gained during term time through inactive school holidays. We also know that the poorest 25% of schoolchildren suffer most – experiencing a fall in fitness levels 18 times greater than the richest 25%. For its part, we welcome the government’s plan to address school holiday hunger next year – a mission we began this year with our summer clubs plans, which focus not just on diet but on building physical activity into children’s summer routine.
Tomorrow (7 April) is World Health Day and this year the World Health Organization focuses on a similar theme – ‘Universal Health Coverage: Everyone, Everywhere’. We are proud to be leading the charge in the UK, demanding that government, policymakers, influencers, public and private sector organisations take a collaborative approach to focus on reducing the inequalities around physical activity and health. We know this has the potential to have a huge impact on society too – reducing crime, improving mental wellbeing and building healthy communities.
Simply put, we need to get more people more active, more often. To see public health simply through the lens of obesity is to only see one side of the coin.