Whitehall should invest £1bn to transform the UK’s ‘ageing fleet’ of leisure centres into ‘wellness hubs’, charity says.
The chair of the health charity UK Active has called on the Government to regenerate 1970s-era leisure centres in a move she argued would ease the burden on the NHS.
Physical inactivity costs the UK £20bn a year and significantly increases the risk of up to 20 conditions including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancers and mental health problems.
UK Active chair Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said improving leisure centres would encourage more physical activity which, in turn, would save the NHS from bankruptcy.
The plan to transform the UK’s leisure stock forms part of a new report from ukactive, called Blueprint for an Active Britain: Milestone Review, which offers practical recommendations across the NHS, local councils, transport, workplaces and the built environment to tackle the UK’s inactivity health crisis.
Paralympic champion and ukactive chair, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, said: ‘Inactive lifestyles are placing unprecedented strain on our health service and it’s vital that we take action now before we bankrupt the NHS.
‘This level of investment is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost to the NHS of a full-blown inactivity epidemic. A radical overhaul of our leisure infrastructure would help us prevent unhealthy habits from forming and move towards a health system that places emphasis on wellness over illness.
‘We all have fond childhood memories of birthday parties and swimming sessions at our local leisure centres and these sites should remain pillars of local communities, with updated offerings which can cater for health needs from cradle to grave.’
Responding to UK Active’s call for more Government funding for leisure centres, an Local Government Association (LGA) spokesman said: ‘Councils have been pioneering co-location of facilities and finding innovative ways to support communities, despite significant funding reductions.
‘However, many of our facilities do now require investment if they are to continue to serve their communities effectively.
‘As leaders of place, councils are ambitious to do more working with their partners across the health, leisure and fitness sectors.
‘Further investment in our leisure facilities will help create a healthy family culture from the very start of a child’s life, tackling levels of obesity.’