Campaign is Launched to Reverse the Trend of Diminishing Activity

An article by Nigel Hawkes for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), published on 24 October 2014:

“Hold meetings standing up,” urged Kevin Fenton of Public Health England at the launch of a new drive to make Britons more active.

“Or hold them while taking a walk,” he added, claiming that this was already common practice at the organisation where he is national director of health and wellbeing. As one of the many “simple things” that people could do to change their lifestyle, holding meetings standing up often had the additional benefit of reducing their length, he said.

Fenton, who is tall and persuasive enough to dominate any standing meeting he might attend, was introducing Public Health England’s “Everybody Active, Every Day” campaign.1 It seeks to reverse the trend of diminishing physical activity brought about by changing lifestyles and job patterns—a trend in which the United Kingdom has fully participated. The evidence backing the campaign includes the claim that almost two thirds of British people over 15 are physically inactive, a far greater proportion than in the United States, Australia, France, Germany, or Holland. The economic cost of inactivity is estimated as £7.4bn (€9.4bn; $11.9bn) a year.

There is no going back to the world in which Adam delved and Eve span, Fenton argued. Physical activity that was once provided by everyday life and hard physical work now had to be consciously pursued, he said, by making it the social norm. “We need to make physical activity the easy, accessible, and natural choice for everyone,” he said. “If we get it right, the benefits will be shared by future generations, leading to an increase in everyone’s chances of living a healthy, independent, and fulfilling life.”

Jennie Price, chief executive of Sport England, said that activity did not necessarily mean workouts at the gym or active involvement in sport—although she did not deprecate either activity. Regular, modest non-sporting activity was also important, she said, as she announced a further £5m for Sport England’s “Get Healthy, Get Active” programme.

These admonitions are not new, so what will be different this time? “In the past we’ve not really had a national strategic framework,” Fenton argued. “This time the vision is backed by cross government collaboration and by partnerships with many other organisations. This is a watershed moment for us, and PHE [Public Health England] is the catalyst for change, thinking about what works. There are new opportunities here; it’s about leveraging them to achieve change.”

But the plan acknowledges that there is no quick fix. It says that change will take months, years, and decades and can only be achieved if everyone works together: national and local government; schools, youth clubs, and voluntary organisations; transport, planning, and leisure and sports providers; employers and businesses; and health and social care professionals.

That may seem a tall order, but Fenton argued that countries such as Finland had achieved such changes, so it wasn’t impossible. For GPs the plan specifically eschews prescribing exercise, which had previously been the big idea. One to one interventions between GPs and patients, consisting of counselling and brief advice, are effective and backed by strong evidence, the plan says, “but this is quite different to referring people directly to exercise facilities”; instead, it recommends working with patients rather than just prescribing to them.

Fenton noted that more could be done by the NHS itself to turn hospitals into healthier and more active places, by providing healthy food and improving their environment.

Jane Ellison, public health minister, said, “Increasing physical activity is a priority right across government. For example, the Department of Health is already supporting local authorities by investing £8.2bn over three years to target public health priorities in their areas. Today’s launch will help make sure that physical activity is at the heart of that, and we are giving people the best possible information about what works well.”


Hawkes, N. (2014) Campaign is Launched to Reverse the Trend of Diminishing Activity. BMJ 2014; 349 doi:


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