The Wonder Drug that tastes like a cup of cold sick!

Many, including the previous Chief Medical Officer, have called exercise a wonder drug or suggested that if it were a pill it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented. But, here’s the thing: if you are one of the people who can benefit most from exercise, and thus one of those most likely to be prescribed this wonder drug, that miracle pill is likely to be about as palatable as a cup of cold sick. That’s because if you’re inactive, it’s probably because exercise is not particularly attractive to you. In fact, more than that, you probably think it’s positively ugly! What’s more, as a non-exerciser starting out, even if you do manage to do a little exercise – if you metaphorically down that cup of cold sick – you’ll then be told that the government recommends that you need to be active daily and do at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate intensity exercise a week to get health benefits. And that’s going to feel like downing a bucket of cold sick… every day!  And because nobody likes the thought of a bucket of cold sick a day, exercise is a wholly ineffective option to enhance health among the least active.


The Problem of “Sporting Freaks” Advising Governments

In reporting on the Conservative Party Conference, Sports Think Tank describes the contribution made from the Conference platform by Olympic cycling gold medallist, Victoria Pendleton: “who spoke about sport and its social impact to build character, confidence and resilience that would help with employment and supported the idea that every child should have access to PE at school, because it bridges the gap between socio-economic status, race, gender, ethnicity and disability”.  But why are people like Pendleton, Kelly Holmes and Sebastian Coe advising government on any area of sport, physical education or physical activity policy.  By definition they are freaks whose experience of, and aptitude for, sport is about as unrepresentative of the general population as it is possible to be.  In what possible way does the sporting experience of an Olympic gold medalist provide an insight into sport’s ability to build character, confidence and resilience in the general population?  What special insight do Olympic gold medalists have into sport’s social impact among the general population, or its ability to bridge the gap between socio-economic status, race, gender, ethnicity and disability? Whether we agree or disagree with them, and no matter how popular they may be, when government’s listen to such sporting freaks, the rest of us get policy derived from the most atypical anecdotes available – and that’s the least evidence-based that its possible for policy to be!

New Style, New Focus – Shorter, Sharper, Swifter and Some Scribbles!

Both here on my MiniBlog, and on my Full Blog, I’ve had a bit of a re-design and a re-focus.  Many of my posts, particularly on my Full Blog, have focused on London 2012 legacy policy, but its now over two years since the 2012 Games ended, and the development and delivery of legacy is no longer particularly relevant (although try telling that to government, who think every aspect of sport, physical activity and public health policy is an example of “securing the Olympic legacy”).  So, here at least, I’ll be moving to a post-legacy discourse and discussion that will focus much more on public health policy and practice, and particularly for physical activity.  That said, there’ll still be a (un)healthy dose of sport, tourism, transport, and even still a bit of Olympics and Paralympics.  Style-wise, I’m also going to go back to my original intention for this MiniBlog – that it would contain posts that are “too long for Twitter, but not fully formed, detailed or thought out enough for my Full Blog“… basically swift one paragraph scribbles!  Alongside this, my Full Blog will retain a focus on clear, evidenced critiques of policy and politics, but with more public health and physical activity than in the past.  In addition, many of the posts will be shorter, hopefully meaning they will be swifter and more regular.  I hope you’ll like it!

Premature Speculation? – Stories of Claims of Legacy Success Before the London 2012 Games Began.

In March 2012, four months before the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games began, the UK government published Beyond 2012: The London 2012 Legacy Story.  Introducing this document, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, claimed that ‘the idea of legacy was built into the DNA of London 2012’, and presented Beyond 2012 as ‘the story of the first ever Legacy Games, and of the many lives being transformed by it’.

However, although legacy priorities are listed in Beyond 2012, there is little other than single short paragraphs to explain how priorities will be achieved.  Also, few priorities are directly measurable, which means the extent to which they have been delivered can be the subject of political interpretation and debate rather than being determined by a clear assessment of whether a targeted policy outcome has been achieved (see #What2012Legacy? How can we assess the success of London 2012 legacy strategy?).  This suggests a greater concern with demonstrating a London 2012 legacy, rather than actually delivering it! (see Delivering or Demonstrating a London 2012 Sporting Legacy?)

One effect of failing to provide measurable outputs and outcomes for legacy priorities is that it becomes easier to claim success by measuring objectives and inputs, and this is one of the features of Beyond 2012, in which the ‘story of the first ever Legacy Games’ is presented as a retrospective with objectives and future investments and inputs presented as legacy successes already achieved. However, there is virtually no data to show what outputs and outcomes have or will be delivered from the objectives and inputs claimed as legacy successes, and there is variable evidence of programmes that have been made distinctive by their association with the Games.  It appears that Beyond 2012 came to early in the London 2012 legacy timeline – a case of premature speculation?

This MiniBlog is a short additional contribution to a series of blogs on exploring what legacies have been leveraged from the London 2012 Games. Follow #What2012Legacy for this series of blogs, coming up in the next few days and weeks.

“Why Should I Donate?” – A Most Uncharitable Response to a Charitable Act?

One of the most interesting things about taking part in Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon, in which people pledged to give up alcohol for the month of January, has been how uncharitable some attitudes to charitable acts can be.  Although I haven’t experienced such attitudes personally, I have seen them circulating on Twitter and in comments on the Dryathlon Facebook page.  My own reasons for taking part, and indeed for asking people to support Cancer Research UK, were clear and had nothing to do with giving up alcohol and everything to do with highlighting the support needed for research to protect against and to cure cancers.

Dryathlon used giving up alcohol for a month to highlight a charitable cause, and as a result a morality discourse appears to have emerged in some quarters about what is and is not deserving of a donation to charity:

“WHY SHOULD I DONATE? Giving up alcohol for a month is no achievement, I haven’t drunk for years!”  Well, good for you!  But its not meant to be an achievement, its about people giving up something they enjoy to highlight a deserving cause.  A chocolate lover may give up chocolate, a smoker may give up smoking, or even a runner may give up training.  Each would be doing so to highlight the cause of their chosen charity.

“WHY SHOULD I DONATE? They should drink less anyway, I’m not paying them to improve their health!”  OK, but by this token don’t donate to charity when people run marathons, because clear and unequivocal research evidence shows that there is a dose-response relationship between physical activity and health, and either taking up running, or increasing the amount that one runs, in order to finish a marathon will improve people’s health – why should a charity benefit from that?

“WHY SHOULD I DONATE?  I could easily give up alcohol for a month!” Again, good for you!  But one person’s mountain is another’s stroll in the park.  I’ve been a swimmer since the age of about 5, and I am an experienced open water swimmer.  I could swim across the Humber tomorrow and be ready to swim the Channel within a month without any great effort or it being much of an achievement.  Others would find that all but impossible – people do what they can do to highlight causes they feel are deserving.

WHY SHOULD I DONATE? Its not like giving up alcohol is climbing Everest!” Fair enough, its not.  But why does there need to be an “exchange” for people to donate to charity?  If people are only prepared to donate to charity in exchange for somebody else doing something they consider to be extraordinary, most charities would be much poorer and humanity would be much more impoverished.

WHY SHOULD I DONATE?”…. because when people undertake a charitable act, when they do something or take part in something for charity, they are not asking for a donation because they have impressed you, nor are they asking for a donation in exchange for an extraordinary achievement that you agree is sufficiently difficult to warrant that donation.  They are HIGHLIGHTING A CAUSE and inviting you to consider supporting it.

Lets Leave Legacy Aside (For Now) and Enjoy the Show!

Boris Johnson, the city’s Mayor, calls London 2012 “the greatest show on earth in the greatest city on earth”. Hyperbole?… not necessarily. London might legitimately lay claim to the latter title, having consistently topped Euromonitor’s world tourist city league (if “city states” such as Hong Kong and Singapore are excluded). In fact, in 2011 London received over a third more visitors than second placed Bangkok. And the Olympic Games can certainly lay claim to the “greatest show” moniker, with a global reach that will see 205 nations compete at London 2012, and an Opening Ceremony with a budget of £27million (over £100,000 per minute).

But does the greatest show on earth in the greatest city on earth merit a public investment of £9.3bn? Strangely enough, one of the arguments that the Games may not merit such an investment may be the very claim that London is the world’s greatest city. Although Barcelona significantly enhanced its status, image and tourist arrivals by hosting the 1992 Games, if London already tops the world tourist city league, what additional benefit will the Games bring? Wider economic benefits, perhaps? A recent Lloyd’s Banking Group report estimated that London 2012 will have a positive impact on the UK economy of £16.5bn between 2005 and 2017. However, investing £9.3bn in a long-term high interest bank account in 2005 would give a very similar return 12 years later.

Undoubtedly London 2012 will be a great show, but there is no link between a great show and a great legacy. That said, we can’t have our money back now! So maybe, for the next couple of weeks at least, we should take heed of Mayor Boris Johnson and “put a sock in it!”. Let’s leave legacy aside (for now) and enjoy the show!

Evidence for a Potential London 2012 Physical Activity Legacy: De-emphasise Sport and Promote the Festival

There is no evidence that previous Olympic and Paralympic Games have raised physical activity levels in adult populations. However, it may be premature to assume that this lack of previous evidence for an inherent effect is an indication that there is no potential to proactively harness the Games to generate a physical activity or sport legacy.  To this end, a policy-led systematic review, carried out by the Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research (SPEAR) at Canterbury Christ Church University, and published this month in Perspectives in Public Health, examines the processes by which the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games might deliver a physical activity (as opposed to sport) legacy.

The review presents two key findings: first, that communities that are not positively engaged with hosting the 2012 Games in London are likely to be beyond the reach of any initiatives seeking to harness the Games to develop legacies in any area; second, major events such as London 2012 can, if promoted in the right way, generate a ‘festival effect’ that may have the potential to be harnessed to promote physical activity among the least active. The ‘festival effect’ derives from the promotion of the 2012 Games as a national festival that is bigger than and beyond sport, but that is also rooted in the lives of local and cultural communities, thus creating a strong desire to participate in some way in an event that is both nationally significant and locally or culturally relevant.

The implications of this review are that physical activity policy makers and professionals should seek to satisfy this desire to participate through providing physical activity (rather than sport) opportunities presented as fun community events or programmes. The key to generating a physical activity legacy among the least active adults through this process is to de-emphasise the sporting element of the 2012 Games and promote the festival element.

[the above is adapted from the abstract for “Developing a Physical Activity legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games: A Policy-Led Systematic Review”, published in the March 2012 issue of Perspectives in Public Health click HERE to go to the paper]

Policy and Politics for Public Health, Physical Activity, Sport, Physical Education, Tourism, Transport, and the Olympic & Paralympic Games. ————————————– MiniBlog has comments too long for Twitter, but not fully formed, thought out or detailed enough for my FULL BLOG.