While New South Wales lays claim to the most populated state or territory in Australia, alarmingly in raw numbers, this also puts the state in top spot when it comes to levels of physical inactivity – a concerning statistic AUSactive says should be top of mind in the NSW 2023 State Election next March.
Last year 57.8% of adults were overweight or obese in NSW and 67% of Australian adults were overweight or obese. The obesity rate in remote regions is higher than metro areas, and in some areas in NSW that may experience socioeconomic disadvantage, like parts of western Sydney, the national average for obesity is exceeded due to factors like access to health information. This is contributing to the health care crisis in western Sydney where hospital admission rates for chronic disease complications have been soaring.
To put physical activity on the agenda, AUSactive has out outlined key recommendations that focus on the overall health and wellbeing of everyone in the community and if enacted will also support the state economically.
AUSactive CEO Barrie Elvish said if the recommendations are put in play they will address the increasing incidence of physical inactivity by the people of NSW, reduce pressure on the healthcare system, improve community wellbeing, combat social isolation, raise industry standards and increase the community impact and longevity of the health and wellbeing sector.
“As the leading association for the health, exercise and fitness industry, one of our primary goals is to promote physical activity and get people moving for their health. The recommendations we are putting forward to the NSW Government will have significant and quantifiable health, economic and community benefits,” Mr Elvish said.
“We believe focusing on exercise and activity as a preventative health measure can lead to greater outcomes for the people of New South Wales and we’ve seen great examples of this rolled out already.
“Getting kids active through participation in sport via the Active Kids Vouchers was a huge success. Research indicates two thirds of Australians are keen to utilise vouchers to get physically active as such we recommend this be expanded to adults and include a wider range of activity and exercise options.
“Linking vulnerable and culturally sensitive communities to exercise and fitness programs is another focus of the recommendations we are putting forward.”
For example, it’s important to support women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage as they are at high risk of inactivity as they often lack access to physical activity programs and subsequently are at higher risk of experiencing co-morbid health conditions that are related to inactivity such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and anxiety.
There are also significantly larger migrant population in some areas such as Western Sydney and exercise and physical activity is a great way to support women in creating social and cultural connections and reducing isolation. Migrant women can have poorer health outcomes and we want to address that by removing any barriers so they can participate in culturally sensitive physical activity programs, that can ultimately contribute to higher physical activity participation.
Mr Elvish said the NSW Government could also do more to support higher industry standards and greater consumer confidence and looks forward to discussing the recommendations with government departments in coming months.
“A Code of Practice needs be enacted to raise standards, and consumer confidence, within the industry and we recommend NSW Government follow Queensland’s lead and classify exercise and fitness facilities as ‘Essential Services’,” Mr Elvish said.
“Getting more people active for their physical and mental health benefits far more than the individual themselves. We look forward to discussing our election recommendations with both the government and Opposition representatives over the coming months.”
“Let’s Get AUSactive”
NSW 2023 State Election Recommendations
- AUSactive recommends the NSW Government expand the successful Active kids Vouchers for adult use, including in gyms, yoga and Pilates studios and for personal trainers offering supervised outdoor programs.
Research indicates two thirds of Australians are keen to utilise vouchers to get physically active. A voucher program would especially support women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage as they are at high risk of inactivity and subsequently experiencing co-morbidity health conditions that are related to inactivity such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and anxiety.
An expansion of Vouchers will encourage people across all NSW to increase their physical activity whilst supporting businesses impacted by the pandemic. It will significantly reduce pressure on the healthcare system.
If incentivised to the value of $100 per person the Return on Investment to the Health system is $3.11 per person for each $1 spent.
- AUSactive recommends the NSW Government allocate funding for a “movement for movement” program.
AUSactive is well placed to deliver the Movement for Movement Program, a public awareness and activation campaign that is a call to action to get people active.
AUSactive has built strong relationships with local council Community Participation Officers who are responsible for linking vulnerable communities to exercise and fitness programs.
By delivering diverse and culturally sensitive community-based programs AUSactive and its members will target younger and older people including from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and regional and remote communities. The program will highlight the importance of physical activity in advancing health outcomes and building social connectivity within communities.
- AUSactive recommends the NSW Government create a specific Preventative Health Portfolio that connects Health and Sport and Recreation ministries.
The Australian health system spends an estimated $27 billion per annum treating chronic diseases and mental health. Yet these conditions are somewhat preventable by increasing Australians levels of physical activity. A Minister having specific responsibility for preventative health would have the mandate to address chronic illness in the community, particularly where health inequalities exist due to physical inactivity with lower socioeconomic groups and regional and remote communities.
- AUSactive recommends the NSW Government follow the lead of other States and implement a Fitness Code of Practice to instil consumer confidence and increase participation.
A Code of Practice should be enacted to raise standards within the industry, ensure fitness staff are appropriately qualified and engage in continuing education, complete pre-exercise health screening and operate within defined scopes of practice.
- AUSactive recommends the NSW Government take action to address the skills shortage in the exercise and physical activity sector.
Considering exercise professionals are critical to ensuring people undertake exercise safely and effectively, the current post Covid skills shortage in the fitness industry in NSW is problematic. AUSactive is asking the government to work with us to provide fee-free TAFE places and create employment pathways for prospective students.
- AUSactive recommends the NSW Government follow Queensland’s lead and classify exercise and fitness facilities as ‘Essential Services’.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns fitness facilities were closed in NSW, significantly impacting people’s physical and mental health. Adults’ participation at the gym is second only to walking as a preferred physical activity and mental wellbeing is a strong participation motive for exercise with up to 37% of women saying they undertake physical activity for their mental health.
Queensland Health recognised the critical role gyms play when they declared health and fitness facilities as an essential service in December 2021. Whilst it’s unlikely NSW will go into lockdown again, declaring the industry as an essential service is an important form of insurance and will help build the sector’s longevity.
- AUSactive recommends the NSW Government follows WA’s lead and endorses peak body status for the Association to enable greater support of the NSW Office of Sport objectives.
The Office of Sport aims to increase the levels of physical activity of people in NSW and AUSactive through its membership should be part of the NSW Organisation Support Program (NOSP) to deliver active recreation activities across the State. However, the Government only allows sporting organisations to develop sport and recreation initiatives in NSW as part of this program. AUSactive is recognised as the peak body for exercise and fitness in Western Australia and this demonstrates there is equivalent rationale to grant such status under the NOSP.