Members' Research Service By / September 8, 2015

Promoting sport for health in the EU

Written by Anne Vernet The 2014 Eurobarometer survey on sport and physical activity highlighted persisting high (and slightly increasing) rates…

© michaeljung, Fotolia
Written by Anne Vernet
Promoting sport for health in the EU
© michaeljung, Fotolia

The 2014 Eurobarometer survey on sport and physical activity highlighted persisting high (and slightly increasing) rates of physical inactivity in the EU, confirming the results of largely comparable surveys carried out in 2002 and 2009 (Rapid press release and memo 24/03/2014).

Lack of physical activity, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, has not only a significant impact on general health, but also considerable direct and indirect social and economic costs (due to health expenses, sick leave, etc.). According to a recent study, inactivity costs over EUR 80 billion per year to the EU-28.

In response to this challenge, the European Commission has launched an annual European Week of Sport to encourage more Europeans to engage in sport and physical activity (press release 11/06/2014). The idea for this initiative originated in the 2011 EP report on the European dimension in sport which recommended the establishing of an annual European large-scale event to raise awareness about the role and benefits of sport and physical activity.

The first edition of the European Week of Sport is taking place from 7 to 13 September 2015. It is an EU-wide initiative, led by the European Commission and implemented at EU, national, regional and local levels, with the help of national coordinators and in partnership with sports organisations and stakeholders.

See also EPRS In-Depth-Analysis: EU sport policy: an overview /Vivienne Halleux (September 2015).


The following overviews are useful snapshots of the EU involvement in sports:


The economic cost of physical inactivity in Europe/ Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) for International Sport & Culture Association (ISCA), June 2015.
The report found that European health spending, while already high today, will rise to even higher levels in the future if Europeans do not exercise more. The extra costs, estimated at €80.4 billion each year, could be avoided altogether if all Europeans exercised for 20 minutes per day on average. An infographics is also available.

Sport and Health in Europe. Physical activity to the welfare of the service and the good life together / Sport & Citoyenneté – Sport and Citizenship, October 2014.
Overview of policies implemented in Europe to promote physical activity as health tool and understand the role of physical activity as a factor of well-being and good living together. Articles in English and French. See also the two issues of S&C journal dealing with sports and health:

Physical Education and Sport at School in Europe/ European commission, Eurydice, March 2013.
The report maps the state of play of physical education and sport activities at school in 30 European countries and  covers primary and lower secondary education and provides an insight into the following topics: national strategies and large-scale initiatives where they exist, the status of physical education in national curricula and steering documents, recommended annual taught time, pupil assessment, teacher education, extracurricular activities and planned national reforms.

Good practice characteristics of diet and physical activity interventions and policies: an umbrella review/ Horodyska et al. in BMC Public Health 15:19 (2015).
This umbrella review aimed at eliciting good practice characteristics of interventions and policies aiming at healthy diet, increasing physical activity, and lowering sedentary behaviours. The use of the proposed list of 53 good practice characteristics may foster further development of health promotion sciences, as it would allow for identification of success vectors in the domains of main characteristics of interventions/policies, their implementation, evaluation and monitoring processes.

Educational inequalities in leisure-time physical activity in 15 European countries / Stefaan Demarest et al. in The European Journal of Public Health 24:2 (2014).
The aim of this study was to assess the patterns of socio-economic inequalities in leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) in the different member states of the European Union. Throughout Europe, physical activity during leisure time is less common among the lower educational groups compared with the higher educational groups. Programs to promote LTPA should consider strategies that target people of lower educational attainment.

Graphical study of reasons for engagement in physical activity in European Union/ Daniel Ríos, Marta Cubedo and Martín Ríos in SpringerPlus 2:488 (2013).
Data on 15 reasons why people in the 27 EU countries engage in physical activity was collected from the European Commission’s Special Eurobarometer. A graphical output was in order to analyse types of motivation in the EU.

EU Institutions


EU Physical Activity Guidelines, 2008.
The guidelines  endorsed by EU Sport Ministers at their informal meeting in December 2008 have become a policy-making tool and a source of inspiration for decision-makers in the area of health-enhancing physical activity at all levels.

Recommendation on promoting health-enhancing physical activity across sectors, 2013.
The Recommendation “aims to strengthen Member States’ efforts in the field of promoting HEPA and to support them by providing a framework for monitoring their policies. It also aims at strengthening cooperation and policy coordination between the Member States and at providing for further exchanges of good practice within the relevant Union level structures for sport and for health” [press release].  Related Working document: A monitoring framework for the implementation of policies to promote health-enhancing physical activity.

EU Expert Group on Sport, Health and Participation
The Expert Group on Sport, Health and Participation is mandated by the Council to explore ways to promote health-enhancing physical activity and participation in grassroots sport. In June 2015 they delivered Recommendations to encourage physical education in schools, including motor skills in early childhood, and to create valuable interactions with the sport sector, local authorities and the private sector.


Council conclusions on nutrition and physical activity, June 2014.
The conclusions set out a number of measures to be undertaken in order to promote healthy diet and physical activity, in order to reduce the burden of chronic and non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis.

Council recommendation on promoting health -enhancing physical activity (HEPA) across sectors, November 2013.
The Council invited Member States to adopt national strategies, develop cross-sector HEPA policy approaches and implement corresponding action plans to promote physical activity.

Stakeholder views


Quality physical Education: guidelines for policymakers, January 2015.
The document calls on governments to reverse the recent widespread decline in physical education investment.

UNESCO is in the process of revising its charter of physical education and sport adopted in 1978. The final draft of the International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport (April 2015) will be submitted for adoption in November 2015.

World Health Organisation (WHO)

Young and physically active: a blueprint for making physical activity appealing to youth, 2012.
The WHO Regional Office for Europe has developed a blueprint for making physical activity appealing to young people. It is intended to be a resource for physical-activity promoters, with a focus on supportive urban environments and settings where children and young people live, study and play. This report outlines the blueprint, its development and suggested next steps.

Global recommendations on physical activity for health, 2010.
These recommendations were developed with the overall aim of providing national and regional level policy makers with guidance on the dose-response relationship between the frequency, duration, intensity, type and total amount of physical activity needed for the prevention of Non-communicable diseases.  The recommendations set out in this document address three age groups: 5–17 years old; 18–64 years old; and 65 years old and above.

NGOs and think tanks

Sport and Citizenship – Think Tank on sports policy
Sport and Citizenship’s position regarding Sport and Health, June 2012.  Sport and Citizenship considers that strong and binding action is needed from the European institutions in the matter of Sport/Health, since it is central to the problems faced today by public health. There are three distinct areas where the EU can bring added value: supporting and setting up a strategy for cooperation and mutual understanding; developing a favourable environment for physical and sporting activities for all; ensuring that the sporting activities on offer are suitable.
S&S is leading the project Physical Activity Serving Society (PASS), which aims to offer a framework for political and strategic action in order to promote physical activity in Europe.

European Health & Fitness Association (EHFA)
EHFA is a standards setting body of the health and fitness sector in Europe and promotes best practice in instruction and training.

Becoming the Hub: The Health and Fitness Sector and the future of Health Enhancing Physical Activity (2011) Executive summary and annexes
his project analysed European physical activity promotion and, learning from examples of best practice,  it makes recommendations for where promotion could be improved and better utilise the fitness sector.

European Heart Network
Diet, physical activity and cardiovascular disease prevention in Europe, 2011.
For each policy area this document provides recommendations and actions that can be taken at local, regional and country level.

International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA)
ISCA is a global platform open to organizations working within the field of sport for all, recreational sports and physical activity. In association with the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF),  ISCA organises MOVE Week, an annual Europe-wide event taking place in September.

EU programmes and projects

Erasmus+ for sport
Since 2014, the Erasmus+ programme has been funding sport activities of all kinds across Europe. With a budget of €265 million over seven years, the sport strand of the Erasmus+ programme supports sport authorities including grassroots organisations that want to cooperate with partner organisations in other EU countries or set up not-for-profit sport events at European, national, regional and local levels.

Preparatory actions and special events 2009-2013/ European Commission, DG Education and Culture, 2014.
Booklet summarising the key achievements of the sport projects supported by the European Commission between 2009 and 2013 (see pp 6-15 for projects related to promoting physical activity).

2008-13 EU funded actions to support the public health priorities: Nutrition & physical activity actions addressing obesity Consumers, health and Food Executive Agency, 2014.
See pp 31-45 for a description of projects that aim to encourage physical activity.

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  • Hey,

    I was never a sports lover before but since I got married, I got into sports activities to keep myself fit, but I didn’t knew about so many physical and specially mental benefits of playing sports.

    Also,I didn’t know that the more exercise done before puberty the more bone mass you would have. My son is wanting to get involved in a sports team but since he isn’t old enough to play for a school I wasn’t sure how to make this happen for him. I am going to go do some research on recreational teams he can join so he can get on the field and get his energy out.

    ~ Beth

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