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An active future: 4Global and NHS Horizons’ new report on physical activity and health outcomes

4Global and NHS Horizons have published a new report on physical activity and innovation. With severe government cuts to obesity services and norms of physical inactivity following Covid-19, can these approaches go far enough to fix the national health crisis?

4GLOBAL, the UK’s leading sports data and consultancy company, has jointly published a report on transforming the nation’s relationship with physical activity with NHS Horizons, a unit focused on supporting large scale innovation and improvements within the NHS.

‘Designing an Active Future’ is the product of a two-day workshop which has looked at new ways of thinking to improve health outcomes. No idea was considered off the table during the workshops, which addressed how different stakeholders could share data and work together in a collaborative way to make it easier for people to lead an active life.

The workshop informed decision-making and approaches as the Integrated Care Systems (ICS) are rolled out across the NHS in England in the coming months.

The report outlines three priorities on physical activity to achieve greater health outcomes:

  1. Maximise the impact of ICS: as the organisational structure of the NHS changes to the new ICS, more emphasis on physical activity is vital for the one or two million people they are responsible for.
  2. Explore innovation: Focus oninnovation as a method to drive down the inactivity problem, looking further than health and care pathways and seek to prevent health issues before they occur.
  3. Facilitate greater connectivity: Attention must also be directed to utilising and connecting the NHS with other agents, providing a connected infrastructure to tackle the issue rather than the model of silos that exists currently.

Commenting on the report, Project Director for NHS Horizons, Sasha Karakusevic said:

“Designing an Active Future created a several ideas and themes to take forward. Perhaps most important of all, it exploded our bubbles to engender ongoing collaboration between stakeholders concerned about the health of the population.

“Integrated Care Systems will be the emphasis of a new NHS organisational structure, and each area will be responsible for one or two million people. How can we make them more active?”

CEO of 4GLOBAL, Eloy Mazon said:

“We all know what needs to happen: we have to get people active. To do this, we need a systematic approach that is both well-conceived and highly coordinated.

“The COVID-19 pandemic gives us a one-time opportunity to rethink how we help people achieve and maintain good health. Now is the time to redesign how we live, how we work and play, and how we plan cities and create systems that will support good health, avoid preventable illness and reduce health inequalities.”

Life after the pandemic:

The coronavirus pandemic that struck the world in late 2019 pushed the everyday lives of millions of people into unchartered territory. Lockdowns across the world, lasting for months and over several years, forced the global population to adapt to new systems of working from home and minimising physical interaction to avoid the spread of the disease.

A lasting and evident consequence as we emerge out of the pandemic is worsened physical activity. Even before the pandemic, inactivity was responsible for one in six deaths across the UK. With a death toll to equal smoking and a cost of £7.4 billion a year to the taxpayer, the implications of obesity and inactivity are clear to see.

Cuts to obesity services:

Despite the worsening crisis surrounding obesity, the Government has cut £100 million in funding for obesity services for 2022/23. The U-turn to tackle a top priority health crisis across the country looks to severely dampen progress on tackling obesity.

In response to criticism from opposing MPs and civil society organisations, the DHSC stated in response:

“This means the Government has been revisiting its plans and reallocating resources to ensure there are plans in place to maintain resilience against significant resurgences or future variants and remains ready to act if a dangerous variant risks placing unsustainable pressure on the NHS. This has forced us to make challenging decisions on additional funding provided in plans for 2022/23 and as such we have reduced the funding for healthy weight activities for 2022/23.

Final thought

New, innovative research into physical inactivity such as 4Global and NHS Horizons’ new report is a welcomed approach in tackling a significant and escalating health crisis in physical inactivity.

Prioritising innovation as a vehicle to improve public health is key to establishing greater health outcomes in the long term, as set out in the Government’s Life Sciences Vision – the critical point is around how the Government delivers on its objectives. As a policy institute, Curia seeks to address ways to enhance the adoption of innovation through the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission

However, to address the immediate health crisis of obesity currently costing the NHS £7.4billion a year, the Government’s u-turn on obesity services looks to stifle progress in the short-term.

New research into implementing innovation will struggle against such severe cuts to vital services.

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