What are the keys to sport and public health in EU?
Based on lengthy reflection and taking into account the magnitude of the sport/health issue, Sport and Citizenship has several recommendations for European public authorities. This seems to be a good time, spanning two EU Presidencies, in the middle of the European Year for Active Ageing.
On 22nd March, in line with the Sportvision 2012 Conference, a workshop was organised by our think tank in Copenhagen to try to find ways of promoting sport as an innovative tool for well-being and for combating non-communicable diseases. This workshop united members of the “Sport and Health” network developed by Sport and Citizenship in the framework of its work programme supported by the European Commission.
Can sport be an innovative tool for well-being and for combating non-communicable diseases?
At a moment when “new” illnesses typical of an increasingly sedentary society (obesity, cardio-vascular diseases) and the European population is getting older, it is still apparently necessary to promote equal opportunity and the benefits of sport for everybody.
The fact is that physical inactivity is one of the major health risk factors. It is probably responsible for a million deaths (about 10% of the total) per year in the WHO European region (1). According to the statistics available, between 40% and 60% of the EU population leads a sedentary life (2). Used for preventive purposes, physical activity has a wide range of beneficial effects on both physical and mental well-being: it reduces by about 25% the risk of various problems linked to inactivity (such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer and decreases stress, anxiety and loneliness (3).
Which role for the EU?
In order to protect and develop this potential, the role of the EU lies in developing public health policies where sport has an integral part.
Apart from the basic problem of including sport/health in a legal process, there are three distinct areas where the EU can bring added value: multisectoral cooperation, providing incentives and responding to specific needs.
Our think tank recently published a position paper (4) suggesting proposals and recommendations in response to these issues.
We are obviously very pleased that questions about health and sport have been on the agenda of the institutions and the Member States for several years now, and we agree that these questions should not be left solely to public authorities (civil society and the sports movement need to show themselves capable of innovation in developing a suitable response to the new needs and requirements of European citizens), but our think tank also calls on the EU and the Member States to provide symbolically strong and binding action in the sport/health matter.
In our opinion, sport in the service of health constitutes a key aspect of the current public health problem.
Article published on the Sport and Citizenship’s June 2012 journal (see page 26)
 Source: WHO Europe  Source: EU recommendations for physical activity, 2006  Source: WHO Europe  Source: Sport and Citizenship’s position regarding sport and health, June 2012