Huw Lewis, Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage
London 2012 was an outstanding sporting event that has inspired the population of Wales. It is vital that we capture the interest people have shown in sport during the Olympic and Paralympic Games and use it as a springboard to encourage more participation in physical activity by people of all ages. The Programme for Government contains a commitment to prevent poor health and reduce health inequalities through promotion of physical activity for people of all ages.
The need for action has never been more urgent. The 2011 Welsh Health Survey indicated that only around three in ten adults meet the physical activity guidelines of five plus active days a week, while 13 per cent of adults reported that they had done no exercise or physical activity in the past week, and a further 21 percent had done no more than light activity. This isn’t simply about the physical benefits. Regular physical exercise helps to contribute to the social and emotional wellbeing of our citizens too. Young people who lead unhealthy lifestyles are more likely to be excluded from social activities and education. Giving our young people access to a range of activities and experiences will help them to make positive and constructive choices, and gain skills and emotional competence.
There is good scientific evidence that being physically active can help us all to lead healthier and happier lives. Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of many chronic conditions including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions. Regular physical activity is associated with a greater sense of well-being and lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups. Even relatively small increases in physical activity are associated with some protection against chronic diseases and an improved quality of life.
The Paralympic Games helped to shift public attitudes towards disabled people. Physical Activity can have an enormous range of health benefits for disabled people including helping to ameliorate, or even reverse, many of the effects of their impairment and of ageing. Tackling barriers to inclusion in sport for disabled children and adults, and for people from different cultures will not only advance
their rights and enhance their well-being, it will also have wider benefits in terms of more tolerant, inclusive and cohesive communities.
We need to respond to this challenge and increase levels of physical activity across the population by supporting people to change their behaviour by creating the right environment where being physically active on a daily basis is the easier option. Increasing levels of physical activity will provide significant cross-government opportunities and benefits and therefore it is important that this is a cross Government ambition. As a result the Cabinet has agreed that we should investigate how we can further mainstream physical activity within each Government portfolio and I will be meeting each of my Cabinet colleagues individually to explore the possibilities for further cross-Government collaboration.
We also need to change the direction of the Physical Activity Ministerial Advisory Group so that the group becomes more outcome focussed and members are held accountable for specific actions which will lead to increases in levels of physical activity. I have already challenged the members to generate innovative ideas that they and their organisations can lead on and I have also considered options for the future of the group to ensure that policy implementation is driven forward with the necessary sense of urgency. I propose that I continue to lead a refreshed Group which will meet two to three times per year, and the Cabinet has also agreed that we should rotate the chair amongst Cabinet Ministers, when appropriate, with clear outcomes and new ideas across a range of portfolios.
I will challenge Sport Wales and Public Health Wales to work together over the next three months to produce a delivery plan of joint actions that they will take to increase levels of physical activity and to complement all other initiatives underway in this area.
My Cabinet colleagues have also agreed to build on the success, of existing cross Government funded physical activity programmes such as Change4Life and Let’s Walk Cymru by increasing the intensity of the Change4Life campaign and by extending the reach of programmes like Let’s Walk Cymru to support people to build more physical activity into their everyday lives.
I am very aware that the prospect of change can be unsettling, but we need to refresh our approach and reinforce our whole Government approach to raising levels of physical activity if we are to achieve our desired outcomes. Wales’ Olympic legacy will be to raise levels of physical activity across the board.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.