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Brett’s story

In this blog, Brett Smith, Director of Research, Professor of Disability and Physical Activity at Durham University, discusses how the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for sport and physical activity could prove a gamechanger for sports accessibility.

In 2019 the United Kingdom Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs) physical activity guidelines were updated. These new guidelines provided physical activity recommendations for non-disabled and Disabled adults, older adults aged 65 years and over, women during pregnancy and during postpartum, individuals aged under 5 years, and non-disabled children and young people. 


However, the physical activity evidence for disabled children and disabled young people was not reviewed in the 2019 UK guidelines. We recognised the significance of this gap. It was recommended that specific public health guidelines be developed for this group. In 2021-2022 the UK Government Department of Health and Social Care, on behalf of the CMOs, tasked us to review the evidence. And, if it was needed, communicate the guidelines appropriately. 

The first physical activity guidelines for Disabled children and young people

These groundbreaking guidelines have been released. These guidelines do several things. They highlight how much physical activity needs to be done each day for good health. 


The scientific evidence tells us that Disabled children and young people should aim to do twenty minutes per day of physical activity for sound health. The evidence also suggests that some physical activity is better than nothing. Even small amounts can bring health benefits. Put simply – moving is good for you! But it is also important that Disabled children and young people do challenging strength and balance-focused activities on average 3 times per week, if possible. 


Doing physical activity and strength and balanced-focused activities is important for many reasons. Science tells us that Disabled children and young people can improve their confidence, concentration, coordination, and motor skills through physical activity. 


We also learned from what disabled children, Disabled young people, and their parents or carers told us that being active is a good way to make friends and meet new people. Being active can also help with helping people feel calmer and less stressed. We also know physical activity is good for mental health. 

A series of firsts

The new guidelines capture and communicate all the above benefits of physical activity for Disabled children and young people. During our co-production events, we heard how important it would be for the guidelines to communicate the need for inclusive environments.


Without these, the benefits of physical activity cannot be fully realised. They cannot be realised when we just focus on the quantity of physical activity necessary for good health (for example, twenty minutes). Disabled children, Disabled young people, and their parents and carers told us they need quality physical activities. That meant that they should be offered choices to explore different activities. 


They also need physical activity experiences that are fun and make them feel good. This will probably sound obvious! But public health messages rarely, if ever, promote fun, enjoyment and pleasure. The guidelines are thus another ‘First’ in this regard. 


Brilliantly, the animation and infographic that communicates the guidelines are also ground breaking. They are the first co-produced assets that share evidence-based physical activity national recommendations for children and young people with a range of impairments.


Much still needs to be done of course. Physical activity guidelines are a central component of a coherent and comprehensive policy framework for public health action. 


They are an important information resource, guide national goal setting, and inform policy development to help support the public to be physically active and improve health, including work tackling wider structural and social determinants. Guidelines also serve as primary benchmarks for physical activity monitoring and surveillance initiatives. 


But guidelines alone won’t enable Disabled children and young people to enjoy regular physical activity. We need many things to make this happen. This includes more inclusive environments and better green, blue and white spaces to be active in. 


We also need more high-quality activities and cheaper equipment. We need more high-quality coaches. And we need better trained social care, health and education professionals to help promote physical activity with and to disabled children and young people. 


We hope that national and local organisations representing Disabled people and/or promoting sport and physical activity share the infographic and animation that communicates the new guidelines widely. And uses it to help promote a lifelong commitment to physical activity and challenge inequalities. 


Thank you to all who participated in co-producing this research infographics. These included Abbot’s Lea School (Liverpool), Bishop Barrington Academy (Bishop Auckland), British Blind Sport, Cerebral Palsy Sport, Clare Mount Specialist Sports College (Wirral), Durham Trinity School (Durham), Get Ahead, Disability Rights UK, LimbPower, Mill Water School (East Devon), North East Autism Society, UK Deaf Sport, SPARC, Sport England, Sport for Confidence, St Vincent’s School: A Specialist School for Sensory Impairment and Other Needs (Liverpool), Thornhill Park School (Sunderland), and Youth Sport Trust.

Next Steps

We want to work with you!

We want to make sure that you are working with Disabled people. You can find resources and guides to implement co-production techniques that build accessible activities and spaces on our guides hub.

How to coproduce research in the sport exercise and health sciences

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