A report supported by the Local Government Association claims that the key to tackling health inequalities and supporting climate change targets, requires investment in public sport and leisure facilities to benefit the general health of the nation.
Councils are currently the biggest investor in sport, leisure, parks and green spaces, spending £1.1 billion per year in England.
In addition, statistics published by Swim England show that swimming helps to save the health and social care system more than £357 million a year – as being active in the water can help prevent, and treat, a number of physical and mental health conditions.
Up to 2,000 pools could be lost by the end of the decade as pools which were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s are coming to the end of their lifespan and are costly to run and inefficient.
72 per cent of schools rely on public swimming pools to teach children vital life skills; however, many need costly refurbishment. With councils under pressure to fund other services such as adult social care, sport and leisure services are at risk of further cuts.
Research has shown that regular physical activity reduces the risk of serious illness and disease. With obesity rates forecast to cost £9.7 billion per year by 2050 leisure activity is vitally important as it improves both physical and mental health. It significantly reduces the risk of developing diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, access to leisure centres and athletics facilities can significantly improve one’s quality of life.
Obesity is a serious health problem that is estimated to affect around 1 in 4 adults in the UK and the rate of obesity is growing. Physical inactivity is a major contributor to this health issue, something that urgently needs to be resolved.
Not only does obesity effect physical health, but it can also have a huge impact on a person’s mental health. A 2010 systematic review highlighted a two-way association between depression and obesity. According to this review, people who were obese had a 55% increased risk of developing depression, whilst people who experienced depression had a 58% increased risk of becoming obese.
It is estimated that the NHS spends over well over £6 billion a year on obesity-related ill-health and this is set to rise. If this obesity rate continues to increase, the NHS is going to have to spend more than ever on this issue to help tackle this serious health problem.
Furthermore, the pandemic evidently caused many physical and mental health issues. Being essentially locked away for months on end with no access to a gym or sporting facilities, resulted in many people losing fitness and potentially resorting to binge eating as a way of coping with the uncertainty of the global crisis. This of course then leads to more people needing treatment, such as doctors’ appointments or even therapists, which ultimately puts more stress on the NHS. Post-lockdown, sporting facilities re-opened and the health of thousands improved.
NHS England has funded the roll out of social prescribing link workers, who can be based in GP practices or other community settings to take referrals from local agencies.
However, both mental and physical health will likely decline again if leisure centres and athletic facilities close due to the rising energy costs. Luckily, this issue can be prevented by switching to energy efficient solutions, which will both save money and reduce the carbon emissions.
The cost-of-living crisis has resulted in a fall of real disposable incomes. As a result, people are likely to prioritise “essentials” like food and bills, rather than their fitness and overall health. However, fitness of an individual is a necessity too. In order to protect the health of UK citizens, it is essential that they are provided with affordable sporting facilities to aid their well-being. If it’s not affordable, physical health will not be prioritised as it should.
So, how can this issue be resolved as the cost of running these facilities is rising? It’s quite simple. Using energy efficient solutions such as LED lighting and solar PV which not only saves money but will also reduce carbon emissions.
If these sporting facilities and swimming pools are then more cost effective to run, leisure centres can charge cheaper membership prices and therefore appeal to a wider demographic as lower income families will then be able to afford membership. As a result, this will improve the overall health of the population, leading to less doctors’ appointments.
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said:
“Councils have demonstrated, more than ever, that they are best placed to deliver services at pace for their local communities, if empowered and resourced to do so.
Cllr Dan Humphreys, District Councils’ Network’s Lead Member for Enhancing Quality of Life
“Sport and leisure facilities and wider wellbeing services drive physical activity, create better health outcomes, address health inequalities and build community cohesion. They can be integral to the pandemic recovery, and beyond in ensuring the health and wellbeing of all our communities.”
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said:
“As our NHS comes under even greater pressures and the backlog for treatment grows, it is essential that we look differently at how healthcare-related physical activity could be delivered in gyms and leisure centres within our communities.