I’ve come across an interesting video from the BBC, who have sent a reporter to Sweden to find out answers to the question
It’s interesting principally for the bizarre way the report focuses completely on sporting activity, as if that is the only way Swedish women can possibly be healthier.
This country bucks the European trend. They’re sportier. They’re fitter. And as a result, on the whole, healthier than most.
Despite being darker and colder,
[Swedish] girls are much more likely to take part in school sports, and then make it a part of their lives as they grow up.
Indeed, we are told that
On average, a Swedish woman is four times more likely than her British counterpart to be active.
Helpfully the report shows us footage of a female jogger exerting herself, as if we didn’t know what being ‘active’ means.
The rest of the short report is then devoted to a young girls’ football training session -
And an interview with the European 400m champion -
The clear impression created is that Swedish women are healthier because they are sportier, and indeed that ‘being active’ is the same as ‘being sporty’.
This is slightly confused. There may be a connection between the amount of sporting activity in one country and its relative degree of overall health, but it is entirely possible to be healthy without engaging in sport.
Someone at the BBC has presumably heard that Swedish women are much more likely to be active, and decided to create a report on that basis. But somewhere along the line they’ve forgotten that you can be active without engaging in football, or sprinting, or jogging. This is how they’ve ended up with a report filled with women doing sport, rather than just being active, which is rather more mundane. Being active can just involve walking to the shops every day, instead of driving, or cycling to school with your children.
Hilariously, there is actually an example of a woman being active in this rather ordinary way, which appears inadvertently in the programme.
While the camera follows the woman jogging along the pavement, a lady cycles past, in ordinary clothing, on a bicycle on the cycle track beside her. She is, however, completely ignored, presumably because she is not being ‘active’ in the way the BBC have assumed being ‘active’ to mean; that is, dressing up in sporting clobber and getting sweaty.
This is a grotesque oversight, because being active in ordinary ways is an extraordinarily simple way of achieving better public health. It’s a message rammed home by recently published National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance, for instance.
Not everyone likes sport, or wants to exert themselves. However, it’s very simple to get people healthier if they don’t even realise that they’re being active. A bit like school work; it only becomes arduous if you realise that it’s actually work. Instead of exercise being a chore, or something that you have to do, exercise can be built, surreptitiously, into daily life, by designing environments that reward more active modes of transport.
If we really care about public heath, this is the kind of activity we should be trying to foster. Not trying to persuade everyone to go jogging.