Population wide studies of sport participation are rare. However, publications released by the European Commission reveal that nearly half (46%) of Europeans never exercise or participate in sport, in spite of the fact that participation in sport can contribute to health enhancing leisure time physical activity. Furthermore, studies of the determinants of sport participations show disparities between males and females, young and old and people of higher and lower levels of education.
Achieving population-level change to health behaviours requires public policy action to develop the right environment. We conducted a review seeking to understand which sport related policy actions have demonstrated impact in advancing sport and PA participation in the general population.
We approached this question using a systematic review study design. Our search for academic literature answering this question unearthed 6472 items, which we reduced to 22 academic papers highly relevant to our research question.
Drawing upon evidence from both qualitative and quantitative study designs, we generated the following policy messages
- Ensure adequate access to sport facilities.
Access to places and spaces has been identified as a determinant of participation. This review shows that policies to build sports facilities have corrolated with increased sport participation levels.
- Beware the complicated effects of financial incentives
Some studies suggest that providing free entry to public swimming pools leads to displacement of existing users of those facilities.
- Build the capacity of sports clubs
Sports clubs are often staffed by volunteers and have limited capacity. Expecting sports clubs to promote physical activity behaviours may conflict with their competitive priorities.
- Understand that the least active are hard to reach via sport
Many public policy interventions are reported to work in people who are moderately motivated to participate in physical activity. To promote health enhancing physical activity to these demographics, supplementary actions are required outside domain of sport policy as traditionally conceived.
Kevin Volf is a PhD Researcher in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, University of Limerick.