Government exercise targets based on judgement and are ineffective

06 April 2016

Government guidelines which recommend how much exercise we should be undertaking each week have been highlighted as based on judgement, and not evidence and research.

Global obesity rates are continuing to soar with more adults in the world classified as obese than underweight*. In the UK, 64% of adults are classed as overweight or obese. People who are obese may suffer life-shortening diseases and the extra strain this puts on the NHS is growing.

Physical activity guidelines set by the UK Government aim to make the population fitter, healthier and reduce the pressures that the healthcare system is currently facing.

New research by Professor Mike Weed, Head of the School of Human and Life Sciences and the Director of the Centre for Sport, Physical Education and Activity Research (SPEAR) at Canterbury Christ Church University, questions the extent to which these guidelines are evidence-based, and their effectiveness as a public health intervention.

The Government’s recommended levels of exercise advise adults to partake in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous, exercise per week, as well as two sessions focusing on improving muscle strength and improving balance.

In his research, Evidence for physical activity guidelines as a public health intervention: efficacy, effectiveness, and harm, Professor Weed concludes that the decision to recommend 150 minutes as the “minimum required for substantial health benefits” is not based on scientific evidence. It is a value-judgment made by the medical scientists that advise governments that a 25% risk reduction is what the general public would consider to be a substantial health benefit.

Professor Weed said: “These guidelines could be doing more harm than good. If we look at studies using objective measures of physical activity such as accelerometers, rather than individual’s self-reported activity levels, these show that only 10-15% of adults achieve the recommended 150 minutes. This suggests that a guideline of 150 minutes is unachievable, and there is the possibility that it may be off-putting to the least active. The Government does not currently measure the effectiveness these guidelines, so there is no indication as to whether they are working or not.”

“It may be the case that if the guidelines were set at, for example, 60 minutes, then perhaps this would be seen as a more achievable target by the least active, and we might actually succeed in shifting the curve of physical inactivity, something that the value judgment that has set the current guidelines has singularly failed to do.”

Evidence for physical activity guidelines as a public health intervention: efficacy, effectiveness, and harm, was published in Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine in March 2016.

* BBC News, 1 April 2016

Notes to Editor

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with a particular strength in higher education for the public services.

With 17,000 students across Kent and Medway, its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.

  • 95% of our UK undergraduates were in employment or further studies six months after completing their studies*.
  • We are one of the South East’s largest providers of education, training and skills leading to public service careers.

*2013/14 Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey


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Last edited: 14/12/2018 22:58:00