Research shows the average child in 2015 would finish 250 metres behind the average child from the 1980s over a 1.6km run19Aerobic fitness (mL/kg/min)Research shows the average child in 2015 would finish 250 metres behind the average child from the 1980

Canberra has released a 10-year plan to make Australian sport cleaner and more competitive, and to reduce the population’s inactivity by 15 per cent. Robin Osborne runs through the National Sport Plan known as “Sport 2030”.

In late July the Federal government launched the 71-page “Sport 2030” roadmap for how sport and physical activity might best be planned and administered over the next decade.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, most media focus was on strategies aimed at achieving sporting excellence (gaining more Olympic medals, finding the next Cadel Evans etc), safeguarding the integrity of sport (doping and sports gambling), and strengthening Australia’s sports industry (e.g. the future of the AIS et al)

Far less prominent, although arguably much more important for the health of the population, was the attention paid to the section (the first in the report) headed Building a More Active Australia, summarised as “More Australians, more active, more often”.

That said, the target seems unambitious:  the aim is to reduce inactivity – or put another way, to increase activity – by just 15 per cent in ten-plus years from now.

Noting that “The physical and mental benefits from being active at all stages in a person’s life are clear,” Sport 2030 says, “Despite this, as a nation we are moving less than ever.”

As a result we are getting weightier and sicker by the year, even from an early age.

Adding that physical inactivity costs Australia an astounding $13-plus billion each year in health care, lost productivity and premature mortality, the report says two-thirds of adults and one-quarter of children are overweight or obese. A simple yet dramatic example of how much things have deteriorated is that in a 1.6 km run the average child in 2015 would finish 250 metres behind an average child from the 1980s.

The “Movement for Life” strategy is aimed at encouraging everybody, whether sport inclined or not, to become more active over the coming years: “The Australian Government will partner with sporting organisations and other physical activity providers which have a national footprint to deliver programs that encourage inactive people to undertake more physical activity.”

This includes people with a disability, the homeless and marginalised, those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, low-medium income households, Indigenous people, regional and remote residents, and females. Water safety and swimming (“A skill for life”) are features of the overall strategy, and yoga is one of the activities depicted, highlighting that the government is also looking “beyond sport” to identify and engage with “innovative physical activity providers who may deliver appropriate “participation outcomes”.

Starting the young on the exercise path is a key part of the strategy, with tactics to include the promotion of physical literacy and encouraging schools to ensure communities can access their facilities in a move to “unlock school gates”.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the government will encourage – by supporting accessible networks in workplaces, aged care services and retirement villages, and sports/recreation centres –Australians aged 65+ years (only 25% of whom currently meet exercise guidelines) to adopt and incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives. This would help prevent and reduce the impact of chronic conditions, reduce the risks associated with falls and increase overall physical and mental health.

In an age of high sugar consumption and proliferating fast food it remains to be seen how successful these well-intentioned counter measures will be. Although it is hoped that by 2030 some 15 per cent more Australians will be undertaking at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week, there is no mention of how appropriate eating would help our fitness.

Meanwhile, the media continues to show far more interest in the quest for sporting excellence and the titillation of match fixing and sports doping. It can only be hoped that the ‘unsexy’ goal of making everyone fitter and healthier will not be outstripped by a focus on high profile sports people and assorted dodgy practices.