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Simply not good enough: the manifestos and physical activity

Update, 9 June 2017:

Well, who would have guessed that omitting the DUP manifesto would be such a miscalculation? Here is what you need.

Hold the front page: the Democratic Unionist Party manifesto (13 pages) has no mention of physical activity, active transport or access to green space.

Physical activity score 0/10


With the publication today of the last of the major manifestos ahead of the UK General Election next week, it's time for my round up of the priority afforded to physical activity in this Brexit-obsessed campaign.

The manifestos at the previous election

weren’t exactly packed full of references to physical activity – but reading the 2017 manifestos makes 2015 look like a halcyon year: all the major parties have cut their references to physical activity.[1] Where physical activity is mentioned, it is in worryingly vague terms; there are no details on costings (even in 2015 the Tories managed to say they’d spend £200 million on cycling – no such specifics this time around).

First off, the Conservatives (88-page manifesto). Physical activity (in so far as ‘sport’ is part of physical activity) is mentioned in relation to health – but only the health of children: ‘We shall continue to support school sport, delivering on our commitment to double support for sports in primary schools.’ Active transport (cycling, not walking) is included – although very much devolved locally: ‘We will continue to support local authorities to expand cycle networks and upgrade facilities for cyclists at railway stations.’ Finally, there is an oblique reference to ‘Our towns and cities should be healthy, well-designed and well-tended places’ – but with no detail as to what this might entail, and physical activity may not have been part of the thinking!

Physical activity score: 3/10

Labour's manifesto (128 pages) is even more of a disappointment. Despite the ‘Transport’ section being illustrated by a picture of a bicycle, the only mention of active transport is: ‘We will invite the National Infrastructure Commission to recommend the next stages for developing and upgrading the National Cycle Network. We reaffirm the commitments in the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy.’ There is no mention of the benefits of physical activity on health, nothing on school sport, green space, or encouraging lifelong physical activity.

Physical activity score: 2/10

The Liberal Democrat manifesto (100 pages) is the only one that directly equates ‘exercise’ with health for all, mentioning it twice: ‘Health and wellbeing are affected by far more than just the quality of health and social care services, so we will work to improve the wider factors that affect people’s health such as … access to exercise … so that everyone can have the best chance to lead a healthy life’ and ‘40% of NHS spending is on diseases that are preventable. We need to do more to promote healthy eating and exercise…’ There are two ways in which the LibDems suggest that they will work to achieve this: ‘Design towns and cities as safe and attractive walking spaces and implement the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling report’ and ‘Significantly increase the amount of accessible green space’. It is the only manifesto to mention green space.

Physical activity score: 5/10

Given the much more significant focus on physical activity in their 2015 manifesto, the Green Party's proposals (in its 26-page Green Guarantee) are disappointing, with just one mention of physical activity (in the context of ‘a people’s transport system’): ‘Invest in low traffic neighbourhoods and safe, convenient networks of routes for walking and cycling, including safe places for learning to cycle, so people of all ages and those with disabilities can choose to make local trips on foot, by bike or mobility scooter’. The inclusion of the opening-up of opportunities for active transport for people with disabilities is very welcome – and the benefits of green space also sneak in with 'equality of access to nature and green spaces, to enhance leisure, health and wellbeing'.

Physical activity score: 5/10

Why am I not surprised that UKIP’s manifesto (64 pages) has no mention of physical activity at all?...

Physical activity score: 0/10

…but I was more surprised that physical activity doesn’t merit a mention in the Scottish National Party manifesto (48 pages).

Physical activity score: 0/10

…and disappointed that the Women’s Equality Party manifesto (32 pages) also doesn’t mention physical activity – despite it being a clear gender issue, with women being 36 per cent more likely to be physically inactive than men.[2]

Physical activity score: 0/10

Overall, a thoroughly depressing read. Maybe by now I shouldn’t be surprised, but it continues to stagger me that something with such enormous benefits can be given so little attention. Failure to address our sedentary lifestyles will undoubtedly have very serious repercussions for the health of individuals (and the financing of the NHS) in future years, with cases of type 2 diabetes, cancers (including breast and bowel cancer), dementia, mental ill-health and cardiovascular disease that could have been prevented.[3] If everyone was physically active, early deaths could be reduced by more than 7 per cent,[4] saving the NHS a small fortune.[5] Why do the parties seem to care so little?

If our government is in any way serious about keeping people well throughout their lives, physical activity should be at the top of the list – and, quite clearly, it isn’t. This is simply not good enough.

[1] I searched the manifestos for references to physical activity, exercise, sport, cycling and walking, parks and green space.

[3] For a summary (with plenty of links to original sources) of the benefits of physical activity for health, see my blog Physical activity: the miracle drug

[5] It’s not easy to estimate the total saving of getting us all physically active – but the 2013 report Economic Costs of Physical Activity gives some good illustrative examples (albeit not very up to date).

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