Fred Turok, chair of the physical activity network talks about the Olympic legacy

Fred TurokWhat an incredible two weeks of sport. The Games have had everything: passion, excitement, enthusiasm and more success than anyone could have imagined.  All the world’s top athletes competed in London and Team GB won over 50 medals, finishing an unbelievable 3rd in the medal rankings; an amazing achievement!

However, before we all get carried away with celebration and festivity, a small word of caution: in my opinion, for the Games to really be judged a national success, we must deliver on our promise to create a sustainable, long term health legacy and encourage the nation to get more active, not just in the next few months but for years to come.  This is not just important for us to successfully nurture another generation of gold medallists but critical for the country’s health and wellbeing.

The Responsibility Deal Physical Activity Network will have an important role to play in this – by facilitating partnerships between businesses, the third sector and the public sector to harness  the enthusiasm generated by the Games.

In all my years promoting physical activity, we have never had such a good opportunity to embrace sport and embed an active lifestyle into the DNA of the nation.  Since the Games began, Olympic fever has spread into swimming pools, badminton courts and parks up and down the country.  It’s been incredible.  Yet history suggests that creating a lasting legacy will require real focus: the evidence shows that no host has ever been able to achieve any kind of real legacy.

We can’t let this happen.  With an ageing population, concerns about the levels of physical activity within schools, and rising levels of obesity and type-2 diabetes the health consequences are literally too dire.  A recent Lancet study found that physical inactivity now causes as many deaths across the world as smoking; accounting for 1 in 10 deaths globally from diseases such as heart disease and cancer.  It named Britain as the third most inactive country in Europe, with 63% of adults not meeting minimum levels of physical activity.  It called the situation an inactivity ‘pandemic’ that is responsible for the death of millions of people every year that could have been prevented.

It is estimated that there are currently 2.9 million people with diabetes in the UK.  By 2025 this will reach 5 million people; the equivalent of more than 400 people developing the disease every day, over 17 every hour and around 3 people every 10 minutes.  A total of 61.3% of adults are either overweight or obese and even more worryingly 33.3% of all 10–11-year-olds.  According to the Chief Medical Officer, physical activity can reduce the prevalence of chronic conditions such as type-2 diabetes, obesity and stroke by between 30-40%.

A societal problem needs to be tackled through a societal approach. This excludes nobody.  We must all play our part. There is a role for both athletes and spectators; head teachers and parents; employees and employers; doctors and patients; students and seniors; central and local government.  The cost of obesity is expected to reach an exorbitant £50bn per year by 2050.  If we want our children to have an NHS free at the point of use then we need to change our lifestyles and as a nation become more active.

The provision of physical activity in schools is currently in the spotlight, with figures showing that whilst 9.8% of our children enter primary school as obese, twice as many (18.7%) leave primary schools as obese.  Initiatives that provide “sport volunteers” to local schools must be rolled out nationwide.  Exercise is by far the most cost-effective and beneficial medicine that exists.  It has no side-effects and usually encourages healthier all-round behaviour. Over 835,000 people visit their local GP practice every day – our GPs have a vital role in encouraging their patients to incorporate activity into their daily lives. Physical activity programmes designed around one-on-one motivational support and counselling have proven successful – they must be commissioned more broadly. Through the Responsibility Deal there are some great examples of business supporting the promotion of physical activity, such as Asda delivering a series of summer events for families aimed at encouraging physical activity within deprived communities – these have to be expanded.

For these Olympic and Paralympic Games to be deemed a real success, we must deliver on our commitment to achieve a real health legacy.  Our athletes may have inspired us to get out and exercise today, but we must remain active tomorrow and the day after.  This goes beyond a two-week sporting showcase.  It is a national crisis. One that I really hope we can overcome.

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9 Responses to Fred Turok, chair of the physical activity network talks about the Olympic legacy

  1. Scott Hodson says:

    Hey Fred

    Great article. I sense the opportunity maybe missed if we don’t think big enough. Events by corporates are great but mostly they are there to promote themselves and I’m sorry Asda serve some very unhealthy food .

    We should spend just 1bn in putting fit pros in every school and continually promote exercise and healthy f ood choices. The return on the investment would be great and then help fit pros survive in our hard industry. Win win

  2. Chris says:

    Hi Fred,

    I’m a personal trainer and weight loss coach, so am not new to many of these frightening statistics you mention around obesity and the increased risks of lifestyle disease.
    The article is good in itself in that it highlights lots of facts and figures, and what “needs” to be done.

    But where is more detail about exactly what the government is doing to keep the momentum going from the games?
    With respect, I write, and see, many many articles similar to this when I blog to my clients and audience – along with engaging in social media forums every day with my peers; some of which are at the very top of their game in the health and fitness industry in the UK.

    Working in fitness, you won’t be surprised to hear that we’re an incredibly positive and optimistic bunch of people – but the common theme here in the trenches in field that is going to (and more importantly WANTS to) be a driver in using the games as a catalyst for changing the health of the nation, is one of worry, concern, and I’m sad to say, total lack of confidence that there are real plans in place that are in action as we speak.
    Sure there were many kids trying new sports out hilt the games were on – I did the same myself during the Seoul Olympics when I was 8. Great fun, didn’t last.
    I speak to friends and family along with my social media and email list audience – during the games people who ‘hated’ sport, came out of the woodwork and really got into what was going on: with many comments of how they’re inspired by what they’re watching. Sadly, pretty much all of these people have already gone back to filling those evening slots with watching Eastenders and moaning that they’re fat.
    Trust me, when I tell you I have an initiative going on to attract pèople off the back of the Olympics, and so do many of my peers.

    But, and it’s a big but, I fear that momentum is dwindling by the day for the vast majority of the population. You don’t need me to tell you the world moves at 100mph, and within another week or two, the games will be a distant memory for everyone, until we get to BBC sports personality of the year where the nation can reflect on “how nice” the summer of 2012 was, and how “inspiring” all our athletes were, before quickly going back to day to day living again.

    Back to your post.
    As I wrote at the top, it’s a good read and contains all the facts and figures.
    My “problem” with it is it smacks of the typical political BS (and I dont usually get carried away with the politician bashing) of “we NEED to do this” and “we MUST do that”.

    I can tell you what we NEED and MUST do, at least from where I sit – but talk is cheap and I see ZERO evidence of what the government an Olympic committee’s plans are, right now, to create this legacy that you quite rightly admitted has failed in all previous games.

    I put 2 questions to you:

    “what is going on right now and for the next 12 months, up and down the country to create this legacy”?

    “if obesity, diabetes and I’ll-health is such a problem, why are we allowing junk food sponsors such as McDonald’s to be the main sponsors of the Olympics? When is someone going to grow a pair, and turn down money for the greater good?”

    Many thanks in advance

    Chris Lupton

  3. Ray Lorimer says:

    Hi Fred,

    I am the food consultant for Cricketer Farm and also specialise in Healthier Food & Diet for my own food consultancy business.
    Your article is a timely and interesting argument to use the Olympics as a legacy for improving the nations health in relation to obesity.

    I remember a number of years ago, in Oslo, Norway, watching and being very impressed by very young children outdoors with their parents ski-ing to a high degree of proficiency.

    It is that type of parental responsibility aligned to making exercise both enjoyable and second nature that is I believe key to better overall health. Also I suspect there is a mindset that needs tackling which commits society to changing some simple everday habits such as walking, or cycling, in safety, to school instead of bus or car where practical at least two or three days a week if not everyday.

    I agree that schools also have a responsibility and the journey to school could be become part of the curriculum that allows time for walking and is built into a days education whereby it is mandatory to either walk to school or for those to far away to exercise at school for a period or periods that equate to an agreed number of minutes linked to walking to school using the Harvard Calories Burned in 30 minutes model in the link below.

    Cakorie management and devlopment in reducing obesity is crucial to a healthier diet. I am workng on recipes and comparisons utilising the Harvard link on the basis that I believe strongly that managing calorie input and ouput is crucial and that means exercise. The link has to be used wisely but it could be used innovatively by schools and the catering industry to make calorie reduction both fun and an everday natural activity just like the young Norwegian children who take to skis like ducks to water.

    Kind regards and now off for a 5 mile run.

    Ray Lorimer

  4. jacqui Morris says:

    The business giants are allowed to sell junk because the revenue in tax from this outweighs costs of ill health I suspect, no different from cigarette sales. The business giants are giants through making so much money largely from the sale of junk food and ciggies-they’re only in it for the money afterall – to make a profit is their aim. People have to make their own choices about giving up junk food and ciggies etc. and this can be a very difficult thing to achieve as you know. They need support and encouragement which is exactly what the likes of Fred Turok and his team and fellow posters (above) are doing but tighter controls on packaging and point of sale and promotional materials are needed – not a week goes by that I don’t get a hand full of promotional literature through my door about pizza, kebabs etc. and so cheap too. Keep up the good work though -you have my support for sure!

  5. gill dickinson says:

    The food industry have a lot to answer for! Because it doesnt matter how active you are if your basic nutrition is poor. Our obesity statistics are scarey – it is now the norm to be overweight or obese in this country. We have to come at the problem from lots of different angles ie tackle how food is grown, marketed, encourage people to be more active aswell as less sedentary (as this is an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease ….even if you are meeting the physical activity guidelines!). Obesity is a complex problem and there is no single solution. Physical activity is even more vital if you are overweight or obese people as it can protect you from long term health conditions. From my experience parkrun is showing the way forward in terms of a legacy of free local provision of physical activity opportunities. In my home town of Stockport we have 4 different parkruns to choose from every saturday! And it is very family friendly and welcoming of beginners

    • Tania@DH says:

      Thanks for your comment. The Government takes the obesity issue seriously, and you are right to say it is a complex problem. The Department works with the food industry to encourage them to make voluntary commitment to help us achieve a healthier diet and lose weight. There are other public health initiatives, such as Change4Life, to help promote behaviour change regards diet and exercise, and the NHS also plays a key role in helping prevent and treat obese conditions and resulting diseases.

      Parkrun is a non profit making organisation and has been going on since 2004. It is a programme of organised, free weekly 5K timed runs in parkland surroundings. Parkrun is truly a fun way to start getting into running, from beginners to club runners. Families can run together and children are welcomed. The timing system allows every participant to monitor their own progress. Many people find running an efficient way to burn calories and lose weight. It can therefore, be a good buddying activity to lose weight, benefit from outdoor environment, and great social atmosphere.

  6. personal trainers london says:

    Hi Fred,

    Whilst I agree that the Olympics was a resounding success I believe the rising obesity levels across the UK show that we have some way to go in educating the nation on healthier eating and increasing activity. As a personal trainer I work every daily with individuals across London to help them to address obesity and adding structired exercise into their lives.

    I believe that in tackling this crisis we must begin in the schools and should be carried over into home life. Alarmingly the rising obesity levels are highest amongst the adolescent and pre-adolescent age-groups and I am seeing an increasing number of younger clients whose parents are want to get them active and fit.

    Our olympians came from all social backgrounds, from those who were privately educated to those brought up in deprived areas. The many boxing clubs across the UK deserve a huge amount of credit for taking kids off the streets in some more deprived areas and chanelling their attentions to something productive. In school across the country I feel we must be doing more. We have such great promise in the UK for a healthier Britain and I hope the government and schools continue to invest in sport for a better future.

  7. Liz@DH says:

    The Olympics and Paralympics were an amazing success and we need to build on that success to ensure we Inspire a Generation, whatever young people’s ability. That’s why we are investing in a nationwide network of Change4Life Sports Clubs in schools. These clubs are designed to get the least active children engaged in sport and being active and use the Olympic and Paralympic sports and values. Over 7,000 clubs have already been rolled out across the country with 13,500 being established by 2015. We know that these clubs are a great way to get young people who don’t like sport, or haven’t felt confident enough to previously take part in physical activity, to become more active and develop positive attitudes to sport and healthy lifestyles. In the first year of the clubs in secondary schools we saw a 166% increase in the number of ‘non-sporty’ young people now choosing to play sport every week – that’s over 10,800 children.

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