It was quite remarkable that on the day England won the Ashes outright and Christine Ohuruogu won the second World Championship gold of her career (in one of the most astonishing finishes to a race of recent years) the British Heart Foundation and Oxford University published new research warning that a ‘couch potato culture’ is putting British children at risk of dying younger than their parents. At the same time, the University of Bristol published disturbing figures suggesting that one in ten adults have not managed even a five minute walk in the course of a month.
Elite sport in Britain is experiencing a purple patch that has continued since last year’s Olympics. With the British Lions winning in Australia, Chris Froome dominating the Tour de France, and the aforementioned triumphs of English cricket and Christine Ohuruogu – not to mention Mo Farah – British sporting fans have never had more to cheer about. Yet, if performance at elite level was part of the plan for the London 2012 legacy, there are worrying signs that the more public side of that legacy has been far less successful.
Figures published by Sport England in June showed a fall in participation amongst 20 of the 29 sports it funds, and while some sports (e.g. athletics) have seen an increase in participation, Sport England’s data indicates that fewer people were participating in sport in April 2013 than in April 2012. Couple this with the findings of the British Heart Foundation and various academic institutions that children are regularly not meeting the target of five fruit and vegetables a day, and are likely to spend up to six hours a day sitting down at weekends, and the Olympic legacy appears at severe risk while also underlining the scale of a major public health issue.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has already spoken of the potential cost of obesity to a health service that is already under increasing pressure, not least from an ageing population. Recent research demonstrates the scale of the challenge facing all three political parties as they prepare their manifestoes ahead of the 2015 General Election, but more immediately facing Ministers in ensuring that the feel good factor from elite sport translates into action at a grass roots level.