Sport and physical activity are often promoted as a life-enhancing activities that contribute to wellbeing and to health. However, some extreme sports might contribute to individual wellbeing whilst being hazardous to health. Similarly, some physical activities may be participated in for health or body enhancement, but may not be regarded by participants as intrinsically pleasurable. As such, wellbeing and health, which are often used interchangeably, are not always synonymous with each other.
And what about the role of government? In some instances, what government considers to be good for individuals because it enhances their health, may be perceived by such individuals to detract from their personal wellbeing – the smoking ban would be one such example. However, while the smoking ban may detract from the wellbeing of individual smokers, it can enhance the health of society as a whole by, on the one hand, enhancing wider wellbeing by allowing non-smokers to enjoy smoke free environments, but also, on the other hand, by seeking to reduce societal incidences of heart disease and lung cancer associated with smoking.
So is government concern with individual wellbeing and health an oppressive force that detracts from individual wellbeing? Or does government have a responsibility to society rather than to individuals to promote individual health and wellbeing for the wider public good? This is a key problem for current government proposals, which are to measure both national and individual wellbeing. To take the example of sport: some may see sport as an important factor in national wellbeing, claiming it contributes to national pride, helps develop physically healthy individuals and communities, and contributes to the physical education of young people. However, others may claim that sport, particularly competitive sport, can cause social divisions, is ineffective in promoting physical activity and health among the least active, and has put generations of schoolchildren off physical activity for life. Certainly there is a clear divide between those who cannot see sport as anything other than a force for good, and those who are critical of sport and what they see as the evangelising of many who are unequivocal about sport’s positive benefits. Perhaps it is time to agree that sport is not universally good for all. But, like other subjective dimensions of wellbeing, it can be good for some!
(this MiniBlog is adapted from Weed & Wellard’s Editor’s introduction to “Wellbeing, Health and Leisure”)