A critical analysis of the cycles of physical activity policy in England

Background:
There has been increasing focus on the importance of national policy to address population levels of physical inactivity. Components of a comprehensive national physical activity policy framework include: 1) national recommendations on physical activity levels; 2) setting population goals and targets; 3) surveillance or health monitoring systems; and 4) public education. The aim of the current paper was to analyse the policy actions which have addressed each of these elements in England and to identify areas of progress and remaining challenges.
Methods:
A literature search was undertaken to identify past and present documents relevant to physical activity policy in England. Each document was analysed to identify content relevant to the four key elements of policy which formed the focus of the current research.
Results:
Physical activity recommendations are an area where England has demonstrated a robust scientific approach and good practice; however, the physical activity campaigns in England have not been sufficiently sustained to achieve changes in social norms and behaviour. The setting of physical activity targets has been unrealistic and continuous changes to national surveillance measures have presented challenges for monitoring trends over time.
Conclusions:
Overall, physical activity policy in England has fluctuated over the past two decades. The variations and cycles in policy reflect some of the challenges in implementing and sustaining physical activity policy in the face of political changes, changes in government direction, and changing opportunities to profile active lifestyles.

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