Recently published figures on life expectancy, healthy life expectancy and adult activity levels reveal stark and shocking inequalities across the nation. We have been blogging recently about the need to rethink how we tackle obesity. And however unwelcome the thought is at a time of huge economic uncertainty, a long-term strategy cannot be implemented on the cheap. It requires substantial and sustained investment. Take swimming as an example – one of the best activities for promoting physical wellbeing. Access to swimming pools has been massively cut back in recent years. Now we read that swimming pools are under threat because of the dramatic rise in energy costs. If we are serious about tackling obesity we need to ensure that all children – regardless of gender, race, socio-economic background and location – have regular opportunities to lead active lives. That includes opportunities to swim.
Swim England, the governing body for swimming in England, was part of a sector-wide delegation warning MPs recently that energy price rises pose a “clear and present danger” to the survival of many of our swimming pools. Figures from ukactive revealed that the total energy bill for the leisure sector has more than doubled since 2019 and is likely to be more than £1 billion for the current year. Even with financial help, they said, swimmers will have to accept colder pools and higher prices.
With 40 per cent of people who exercise in the water not doing any other form of exercise, the loss of these facilities would be disastrous. Swimming is also a life-skill. Too many of our children already leave school unable to swim, particularly those from less affluent families and those from ethnically diverse communities. Price increases and pool closures would only serve to make this situation even worse, widening health inequalities and excluding those most in need of these facilities.Jane Nickerson, chief executive of Swim England, quoted on the Swim England website
If we want the population to be fitter and healthier, providing opportunities to swim regularly is surely a sensible investment. The wealthiest can afford their own private pools; many others are able to afford gym memberships, which often include access to a pool. Millions of people, however, cannot afford to join a gym: if they want to swim regularly they depend on public provision – on access to a local swimming pool.
In our September 2021 blog Why we need to invest in our local swimming pools we discussed a report from Swim England warning that 2,000 swimming pools in England could be closed by 2030 – 40% of the current total – and that without investment of £1bn there would be a “huge decline” in the availability of pools.
The report went on to set out the benefits of swimming, including for:
In our blog All young children should be receiving free swimming lessons we highlighted the fact that despite swimming lessons being part of the national curriculum, it is likely that around one in three children are unable to swim by the age of 11. And that drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death in children.
We have also made the point that our swimming pools also provide a sense of community:
At its most basic level, it means children learning and learning to value that they are part of something bigger than just their immediate network. Regular visits to the local swimming pool – whether with school or with family – help to reinforce that message.From the blog Why we need to invest in our local swimming pools
One of the foundations of Life-Based Learning is that we need to be thinking and planning long-term. LBL is an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we all face – now and in the future – become the focus of a fully rounded, life-based approach to learning.
One life area – or strand – of LBL is Self, which includes focusing on physical health and wellbeing. We need to ensure that children are encouraged to be active, that they understand the importance of participating in regular physical activity and that they have regular opportunities to do so.
It means tackling whatever obstacles, attitudes and biases are directly causing or contributing to a reduction in participation levels.
It means being prepared to invest properly in tackling obesity and in promoting children’s health and wellbeing more generally.
It means that we need our swimming pools to be open, cheap to use and easily accessible – for children and for adults.
Image at the head of this article by Pexels from Pixabay.