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The Olympic Health Legacy



In the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics, many commentators speculated whether the Games would have a lasting impact on the British people. One of the high hopes was that by throwing a spotlight on elite sporting achievement for a sustained period, ordinary people might be inspired to start taking part in more exercise activities. In turn, this would lead to a better level of good health amongst the general population of the United Kingdom and consequently save the NHS millions of pounds.

Undeniably the Olympics did have a significant impact on Great Britain, but the question of whether it will leave a lasting health legacy is less straightforward. Two weeks ago, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report expressing bewilderment at the lack of a cohesive Government policy tailored to build on the achievement of London 2012. According to the committee of Peers, the Government had allowed a golden opportunity to improve the nation’s health slip through their fingers.

Lord Krebs, the Chairman of the Lords committee, was unequivocal in his condemnation of the Government’s woolly-minded approach to the Olympic health legacy. In his opinion, the ministers dealing with health care and those dealing with the Olympic Games had done little to cooperate on policy. As a result of this lack of “joined-up thinking,” nothing was being done to address the most significant health threat faced by the British people – an inactive lifestyle.

It is estimated that almost one in ten premature deaths occur as a result of a lack of exercise. Up to ten percent of heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of cardiovascular illness would not take place if the patient concerned led a more active life. According to the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, Great Britain is amongst the laziest nations in the world. Almost 7 out of every ten people fail to meet the bare minimum for recommended daily levels of exercise.

Bizarrely, even though the health benefits of sport and exercise are well documented and thoroughly researched, the NHS places little importance on it. One example of this lack of recognition can be found in British medical schools. On average, trainee doctors will only spend 4.2 hours studying the benefits of exercise throughout their time at University. Even worse, 44% of medical schools did not even bother to explain the guidelines of daily levels of training to their student doctors.