Exploring the interrelationship between sport, health and social outcomes in the UK: Implications for health policy

Background: Policy agencies are now re-visiting early aspirations that sport, as a form of physical activity, can be an instrument to foster general health and also subjective well-being (SWB). Both of these concepts capture physical and mental health states. SWB also encompasses broader psychological and life satisfaction as well as mood and affect. Past and current policies also identify a link between sport, social capital and SWB. Methods: Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) is undertaken on data from the UK’s Taking Part survey to investigate the interrelationships between sport, general health, social capital and SWB. Results: The SEM shows a simultaneous relationship between sport and SWB. The effect is mediated through general health. The results also show that there is no relationship between social capital and sport but a clear relationship between SWB and social capital. Conclusions: From a health policy perspective there should be an emphasis on encouraging greater sport participation, despite the difficulties that this poses, because there is a potential ‘multiplier’ effect on SWB and on general health through mediation. The multiplier effect occurs because once someone engages in sport and has their general health and SWB enhanced, then even further sport participation becomes likely, and subsequent general health and SWB, which would comprise both physical and mental health benefits. To target traditional non participants the research suggests that physical activity should be promoted for enjoyment, with health benefits subsequently following.