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Lost Legacy

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On the eve of the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society Annual Meeting, our nation has never been fatter.

You’ll no doubt recall the razzmatazz leading up to the London Olympics of 2012 and the hordes of politicians clamouring to get in on the act.  We were told that staging the games would bring huge economic benefits to the country and that a lasting legacy would be a greater participation in sport and leisure-time activity, leading to a healthier nation.  Seeing great athletes in action, it was argued, would be the catalyst for the next generation of youngsters to get out there and get involved, thus helping to combat the current epidemic of childhood and adolescent obesity. I never believed a single word of it. For me it was just self-serving nonsense. There was simply no reason to believe that watching elite athletes competing on a world stage would have the slightest impact on public health. A recent survey confirms that view. 

The Health Survey for England is an annual survey of 8,000 adults and 2000 children.  The data for the 2012 edition were collected before, during and after the 2012 Olympic Games and the conclusions make stark reading.  Only 21% of boys aged 2-15 were active for an hour a day, down from 28% in 2008.  Only 16% of girls met this recommended level of activity, down from 19% in 2008.  Teenagers were the least active, with only 14% of boys aged 13-15 getting enough activity, half the number in 2008.  Among girls of the same age, the figure has fallen from 14% to 8%.  The survey found that even outside school, children spent at least 3 hours a day sitting down – presumably watching TV, playing with electronic games or doing homework.   The authors conclude that “there is no Olympic legacy yet apparent”, a phrase which at least leaves open the possibility that it might become apparent in the future (though I suspect hell will freeze over well before then). 

When I last wrote about this, I said that if I could take the £12bn or so that was being spent on the Olympics, I would have used it to build safe cycle and walkways for our children to get to school.  This would not only cut pollution from the vast numbers of cars involved in the school run, but would have a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of our young people.  It was a potential legacy that is well and truly lost. 

Dr David Ashton MD PhD
22nd January 2014 

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