Will Games help public to get fit?

An artist's impression of London's planned showpiece Olympic Stadium.
An artist's impression of London's planned showpiece Olympic Stadium.
Picture: Shutterstock

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Officials behind the London 2012 Olympics could face their biggest challenge long after the Games have ended in proving the event has made a difference to public health, researchers claim.

A study published in the Lancet states: ‘The challenge will be to deliver evidence to show not only whether the Games affect public health, but how.’

The pledge to bolster mass participation and get more people, particularly the young, to take part in sport and physical activity was one of the golden promises which helped London 2012 win the right to stage the Games.

The huge urban regeneration drive, including new sports facilities, in east London is also part of the legacy which London 2012 is supposed to produce.

The challenge will be for officials to prove the difference it makes to health as ‘the lack of systematic assessment is seen as a weakness of previous Olympics’, according to the study by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine public health and policy researchers.

The study said: ‘Some commentators doubt the power of the Olympics to inspire physical activity; the lifestyles necessary to reach top sporting levels might be a deterrent to mass participation.

‘Furthermore, the hoped-for reversal of fortunes in east London is not a certainty: gentrification is already inflating house prices, the transformation of the urban environment could be socially divisive, and local communities might again be disrupted by the post-Games transformation.’

The high profile deadline of the 2012 Games and the international spotlight it attracts has meant many programmes have been ‘accelerated’, but it is still not possible to judge whether this alone produces added health-related benefits.