Sports Council: government is doing too little against ‘pandemic of lack of exercise’

New plans by the outgoing cabinet to get people to exercise more are ‘far too meager’. The government is therefore doing too little to prevent the 5,800 deaths that occur every year, according to the Ministry of Health, due to ‘exercise poverty’. That is what cabinet advisor the Dutch Sports Council writes in a letter to informateur Mariëtte Hamer, who has NRC saw.

The NLSportraad states that the Netherlands is dealing with a “pandemic of lack of exercise” and finds the cabinet’s ideas to solve that problem completely insufficient. “Unfortunately, the NLSportraad has to conclude that this pandemic will continue for decades with the proposed measures,” the council writes.

In 2018, it was agreed in the National Prevention Agreement that by 2040 at least 75 percent of the Dutch should exercise sufficiently. Last year it was slightly more than half. It means that four million people have to start exercising more. Government attempts to achieve this have failed time and again over the past twenty years. “What we already did and are doing is not good,” seven outgoing ministers from various ministries recently wrote in a letter to the House of Representatives.

Little exercise costs billions

The consequences are huge, everyone agrees on that. According to studies by the RIVM and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, too little exercise not only leads to 5,800 deaths per year, but also to 2.7 billion euros in health care expenditure. If people succeed in getting people to exercise and exercise more, this can lead to lower healthcare costs, higher labor productivity and a decrease in absenteeism due to illness. For adults, ‘sufficient exercise’ means 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise every week (brisk walking or sports) and twice a week activities that put some strain on muscles and bones.

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Also read: a report about neighborhood sports coach Nabil Azarkan in Utrecht. He tries to get underprivileged young people to exercise

The letter from the seven outgoing ministers was important because it would outline the contours of the government’s ‘movement plans’. The outgoing cabinet is thinking of “three moving waves”, which “together create a wave that gets bigger and bigger and gets more reach”. Specifically, “communication campaigns” that were started in the corona pandemic are mentioned, with names such as ‘fit in your way’, in which tips are given on how people can exercise extra. On the accompanying website, people can fill in whether something is a good or bad choice. Examples: ‘Eat a wholemeal sandwich’, ‘go vacuum during your break’, ‘park the car one block away’.

More concrete proposals are not included in the letter. According to the seven outgoing ministers, these are ‘choices’ that must be made at ‘the formation table and by the next cabinet’. They write: “We do call on you to always keep an integrated approach in mind when making those choices.”

Concrete proposals

The NLSportraad is not satisfied with it, according to the letter to informateur Hamer. Although the council is pleased that the government is recognizing the problem, it believes that the aforementioned measures fall ‘in the category of more of the same’.

The council would prefer that 75 percent of the Dutch people exercise sufficiently not in 2040, but ten years earlier. The Sports Council writes about the campaign to get people to exercise more: “More information, projects and subsidies are not the solution”. Trying to stimulate behavioral change also does not work, the Council believes – according to the adviser, this has already been shown over the past twenty years.

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The NLSportraad wants the government to dare to think about legislative changes and a different design of the living environment. In contrast to the outgoing ministers, the Sports Council does come up with concrete proposals, such as more sports on offer in neighbourhoods, (enforced) permission from employers to exercise or exercise during working hours, extra gym and swimming lessons in schools. Earlier, the council argued for a Sports Act to regulate these kinds of matters. The left-wing parties GroenLinks, PvdA and SP – which are participating in the cabinet formation – joined this plea.

The NLsportraad writes that it “hopes and expects that a next cabinet will decide as soon as possible to reverse the disastrous, increasing pandemic of the lack of exercise and to take the necessary, iconic measures for this”.

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