Physical Activity Disparity Identified in Ethnically Diverse Communities as Lockdowns Continue Through the Covid-19 Pandemic

Being presently in the third national lockdown within the last 12 months, the disproportionate impact on physical activity among ethnically diverse communities is alarming. The decline in activity levels has not only had an impact on physical health but also mental wellbeing for these communities. With the pandemic having highlighted already apparent health disparities (Public Health England, May 2020) when compared to their White counterparts, Sporting Equals explores this subject further.

Sporting Equals reviewed the latest Active Lives data (Sport England, October 2020) to understand the effect the first lockdown had on activity levels amongst ethnically diverse communities compared to the same period in the previous year. This revealed the level of impact the pandemic has already had on activity levels, and the continued effect that is likely to have as we weather through another lockdown.

As we reach peak winter, it is clear that figures of inactivity are likely to increase. Restricted access to sports facilities and colder temperatures making outdoor exercise increasingly difficult, is expected to have a detrimental impact on activity levels amongst all communities. The Sporting Equals Active Lives Adult Survey, Corona Report (2020) highlights activity levels during the first lockdown from mid-March to mid-May 2020, to gain an insight into activity levels pre and post-lockdown. From this we were able to draw conclusions and recommendations to help close the growing disparities gap between ethnically diverse communities and their White counterparts.  

Unsurprisingly, the data found that inactivity increased during the first national lockdown. However, the lockdown had a disproportionately negative impact with activity levels (of at least 150 mins a week) dropping within those specifically from Asian (14%), Black (14.2%), Chinese (13%) and Other Ethnic (17.9%) backgrounds. Drops in activity levels compared to the same period in 2019 indicates that these communities are likely to find it harder than ever to find new ways to stay active during this third national lockdown.

These disparities reinforce what is already known about the barriers to participation in sport and physical activity within ethnically diverse communities.  This includes unequal access to sporting facilities and other health and wellbeing opportunities, cost of participation, cultural barriers, a lack of time to engage in exercise and negative experiences of local sport and leisure clubs. For example, 40% of ethnically diverse community participants said their experiences of local sport or leisure clubs had been a negative one in terms of the customer service received, compared to just 14% of White British (Sport and Recreation Alliance, May 2018). During lockdown, the ability to engage in physical activity has been compounded by the lack of space to exercise safely alongside the universal issue of balancing work and life responsibilities, which many have struggled with during this difficult time. Together they have created quite a difficult environment for maintaining healthy activity levels of exercise within ethnically diverse communities.
 
Therefore, to achieve widespread healthier communities in Britain, greater resolve is needed to address the growing health disparities and help communities who are already facing inequalities in sports and wellbeing, specifically during the current COVID-19 pandemic. This includes taking a holistic approach to addressing inactivity, in order to improve overall wellbeing in some of the most inactive groups.
 
Working locally with community partners is also an important approach in not only understanding the long-term impact of lockdown within local communities, but to also help develop and implement target opportunities to make sport and physical activity more accessible. It is important that we as a sector take the time to engage and understand each specific community and begin to develop solutions that will assist with their unique struggles that currently prevent wider participation in sport and physical activity.