Sport federations could do more to promote public health

(Reuters Health) - - Just two out of 28 international sports federations focus on promoting physical activity as a way to reduce disease, according to a new study that surveyed the international organizations represented at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

Only FIFA and FINA, the international soccer and aquatics governing bodies, make universal exercise messages a priority, researchers found.

“The global epidemic of non-communicable diseases is an important public health issue,” said lead author Dr. Margo Mountjoy of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, in an email.

“Sport, as the gate-keepers to physical activity, has a moral and ethical role in promoting physical activity,” said Mountjoy, who also chairs the sports medicine committee of the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Insufficient physical activity is one of four lifestyle risk factors – along with poor diet, tobacco use and alcohol abuse - strongly associated with serious chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, according to the World Health Organization.

In 2016, Mountjoy and colleagues asked 28 international sports governing bodies to rank the importance of 11 health-related topics. They also asked for updates since a 2012 survey about priorities and research activity around 27 other health-related areas. The 28 groups represent nearly 5,000 national sport federations that had more than 11,000 athletes at the 2016 summer Olympics.

“Fight against doping” was the highest priority for 96 percent of the groups, followed by “image as a safe sport.” Topics with the lowest rankings were “increasing the number of elite athletes,” “health of recreational athletes” and “health of the general population.”

With health-related programs and research, the most common activities were “injury prevention by regulation of equipment and venues” and “first aid or minimum safety standards at events.” The least common research priorities were “technology-based health risks,” “prevention of chronic disease in the general population” and “relative energy deficiency in sport.”

Only FINA and soccer’s Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) had prevention of chronic disease on their list of priorities.

Compared to 2012, the priority ranking of focusing on the health of the general population had dropped significantly, the new survey showed.

After the 2012 survey, researchers had recommended that international sports groups give health promotion more attention, Mountjoy said.

“Despite this recommendation, it was disappointing to learn that the most statistically significant finding was the decreasing priority of physical activity promotion.”

The Medical and Scientific Consultative Group of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations has a follow-up plan, Mountjoy added. In November, the group will host a workshop for medical directors of the international sports federations to learn ways to develop athlete safety and promote general global health.

FINA has a “Swimming for All-Swimming for Life” campaign to promote swimming and prevent drowning internationally, she noted. The FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Center has an “11 for Health” program that pairs soccer-based activities with health initiatives for schoolchildren.

“Health promotion through sports and physical activity should be a joint effort of all stakeholders,” Astrid Junge of the Medical School of Hamburg in Germany said by email. “For example, health insurance companies should play a major role,” said Junge, who wasn’t involved in the current study but worked with Mountjoy on the 2012 survey.

SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine, online July 12, 2017.