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The Pandemic has affected equality and the immediate impacts need to be addressed.

Jamie Blackshaw, Physical Activity and Healthy Weight Diet, Obesity and Physical Activity Division Health Improvement, Public Health England joins the panel at the Why Sports Health and Inactivity webinar, 09:30 - 9th September 2021 to discuss the health of the nation and a collective ambition to develop a whole systems approach. Register your place here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in some way. However, as we now know the impact of the pandemic has not been felt equally and this is something that I will reflect on here.

Whilst many physically active children, young people and adults managed to adapt and stay active, a significant proportion became less active. This has resulted in a reversal in some of the pre-pandemic increases in physical activity that were being achieved in some groups. Such changes will have had immediate impacts on people, and we need to understand what this might mean for people’s health, both physically and mentally, going forward. There is a lot of interest in understanding some of these effects, such as the contribution towards deconditioning in older adults and the potential impact on falls.

During the pandemic, there was a significant impact on the physical activity sector and re-opening and recovery are ongoing. Having said that, the voluntary and community sector, local authorities, anchor institutions, national bodies and the leisure sector have responded with creative solutions to support people to stay active and maintain strength. Examples of this include creating both digital and paper-based resources to ensure universal access to guidance around at home movement exercises and community opportunities.

Inequalities in physical activity existed before the pandemic though as with other things, the inequalities have been exacerbated (widened) and further exposed. The activity levels of the following groups have been affected the most: older people; people from lower social groups; people living with a disability; people living with one or more long term conditions who were asked to shield; and people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. This is perhaps unsurprising as these population groups and those with protected characteristics are often underserved by the design and development of services and approaches, which often do not consider the barriers to access and cultural acceptability and relevance to people’s everyday life context, culture and social aspects.

We know from research commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) that there is variability in how such factors are considered, which can lead to inequity of access and inequality in outcomes. This is further compounded by the wider determinants of health and through the environment and structural factors such as variability at a local level to access safe and quality active spaces. However, we do know what can enable inclusion and participation – highlighted in this visual from the report:

Figure 1: Enablers for physical activity.

This figure details enablers emerging from the research which help persuade and sustain participation in physical activity. These range from social outcomes and contextual understanding to psychological support and understanding audience needs.

I want to share with you at the Why Sports Health and Inactivity webinar what we are doing in PHE to support get things moving and I will reflect on our work with Sport England and partners to help move health professionals through the ‘Moving Healthcare professionals programme’.

I will also highlight the work we are embarking upon to revisit the National Physical Activity Framework in Everybody Active Every day. Now, as preparation to move into the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is advancing, seems like the ideal opportunity to take stock of what we learnt from listening to our stakeholders before the pandemic and how, together, we can co-produce a framework fit for the next decade.

How do we re-frame Everybody Active Every day so that we focus on supporting those population groups, which are the least active whilst ensuring that we enable the whole population to move more every day?

We need to learn from the pandemic and as Professor Marmot states build back better and fairer. It is not as though we are in deficit – as a collective, those of us engaged in wanting to deliver a more active and healthier population can help mobilise national and local assets; have evidence, data and practice-based approaches at our fingertips and lots of creativity to build upon.

Sport England’s ‘Uniting the Movement’ strategy and implementation over the next 10 years provides us with a great opportunity to align efforts.

How do we work through a whole systems approach, integrating opportunities through ICSs and communities, to promote physical activity?

I am an optimist and excited about the opportunities ahead to support a more active nation and as the Better Health Campaign urges ‘Let’s do this!’


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