12 The Daily Telegraph Tuesday 28 July 2020 *** Sport Fight against obesity hit by mass loss of leisure facilities Comeback blues Konta loses out to British rookie Exclusive chief sports reporter By Jeremy Wilson Covid-19 are overweight or obese. People from poor areas have been disproportionately affected. Prof Nanette Mutrie, the chair of physical activity for health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Public leisure facilities need to reopen in order that the health benefits of activity are available to all and not just to those who can afford private membership,” she said. Huw Edwards, the chief executive of UKactive, which represents 7,000 public and private gyms, said: “Our gyms and leisure centres help form the fabric of our society. We must prioritise the sector’s role in the UK’s recovery by providing the financial and regulatory support physical activity businesses need to maintain their futures and help reduce health inequalities.” A government spokesman said it had delivered a £4.3 billion package of support to local government during the pandemic and that an additional £500 million package had been announced for councils earlier this month. A scheme to compensate for income that local authorities usually generate independently was also announced. Almost half of public leisure facilities have remained closed despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, prompting fears that the Government’s plan to tackle obesity will be undermined by the mass loss of swimming pools and gyms. Research by Community Leisure UK, whose members employ 100,000 staff, found that numerous leisure facilities require urgent financial support and that only 56 per cent reopened in England when they could have returned. Outdoor pools were permitted to reopen at the beginning of the month and indoor leisure centres, gyms and swimming pools followed from Saturday. Many, however, have stayed shut and the most common reason was that it was not considered economically viable. Leisure providers are now calling on the Government to back up their new national plan to reduce obesity with an £800million emergency relief fund that would help sustain community leisure centres, gyms and swimming pools through to March 2021. Without ring-fenced funding, Community Leisure UK says 48 per cent of all public leisure facilities risk closure, including 1,300 sites by the end of the year which would equate to around 58,000 lost jobs. There are already 4,350 planned redundancies of full-time employees and a further 5,534 planned redundancies of casual jobs. “Communities without leisure centres are unimaginable,” said Mark Tweedie, chief executive of Community Leisure UK. “Public leisure facilities should be a key partner in achieving the Government’s target of reducing obesity, managing diabetes, and improving the nation’s health to limit the impact of a potential second wave of Covid-19.” Public leisure centres and swimming pools have not had access to the same range of business loans as private gyms and, with many shut, there is mounting concern health inequalities will widen further. Around a third of children and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and three-quarters of people admitted to hospital with
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