A photo of cyclists riding through a tunnel.

Can the UK provide a blueprint for Australia's health?

23 May 2017

As the federal government announces a new national plan for sport and participation, a series of high-level events will explore what Australia can learn from the UK's policy approach to sport and physical activity.

A coalition of researchers, policymakers and health advocates will meet the chief architects of England’s successful approach to physical activity participation policy this week, to determine how Australia might best develop effective policies for physical activity, sport and active recreation.

In Australia almost 60 percent of adults are doing less than 30 minutes of moderate activity per day compared to just under 43 percent in England.

“No single agency can achieve population changes in inactivity at a national or local level,” said Dr Justin Varney, National Lead for Adult Health and Wellbeing for Public Health England (PHE) and head of its portfolio of work on physical activity.

“The big opportunity for Australia lies in a multi-faceted whole-system approach.

“The UK has had some great wins in recent years, not just at the elite athlete level during the Olympics but also at the local level. Our communities are more active on a daily basis thanks to social marketing, active travel planning, improved professional skills and knowledge, and the development of evidence-based community sport and physical activities.

Providing opportunities for sport and physical activity that fits into people’s lives is a focus at both national and local level in policy, partnerships and investment – and is having real impact on the health of individuals and families.
Dr Justin Varney

“Improving the cultural and physical environment that people live in has been key. We have to make being active every day the easiest, most useful, fun, social and sensible choice for people if we want to help people live healthier and happier lives at every age.”

Dr Varney will be joined by Kay Thompson, the current Strategic Policy Lead for Sport New Zealand. She was instrumental in leading the UK Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer Guidelines for Physical Activity and Health, and oversaw £23M Lottery Investment committed to tackling inactivity while Strategic Lead for Health at Sport England.

Designed to stimulate evidence-informed discussion on how Australia can best develop, fund and implement a strategy for broad public participation in sport and physical activity, the ‘Active Nation – Healthier Nation’ policy tour is supported by the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney; Sport and Active Recreation Intervention and Epidemiology Research (SPRINTER), a partnership between the NSW Office of Sport and the Prevention Research Collaboration (PRC), hosted at the Charles Perkins Centre; WHO Collaborating Centre for Physical Activity Nutrition and Obesity; Prevention Research Collaboration; Heart Foundation; NSW Office of Sport; and Australian Prevention Partnership Centre. 

This visit to Australia is timely, coming at a pivotal moment when our strategic approach to physical activity, sport and active recreation is entering a period of reform and renewed interest among policymakers.
Professor Bill Bellew, Technical Director at SPRINTER, at the University's Charles Perkins Centre

“We have an opportunity to renew our investment and efforts to promote increased participation and engagement of the whole community and not just high level sports participants, through broad-based physical activity, sport and active recreation,” Professor Bellew said.