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5 Sep 2022 | 10:10

New research has highlighted startling health inequalities which show that a 60-year-old woman in the poorest areas of England typically has the same level of illness as a woman 16 years older in the richest areas. In this article Coalition member organisations respond to the research from the Health Foundation and highlight how targeted physical activity and sport-based interventions can help to tackle health and gender inequalities, as articulated through the #OpenGoal framework

Carol Bates, founder of COGs (Crawley Old Girls): "Many of the women who join us may not have been active had they not come to COGs, me included, so when we talk about taking preventative action then yes we are providing something that women are using to improve their health. I have so many stories where women say to me that getting involved has been life-changing. It's very easy to say that but when you hear their stories, you realise that actually being active and coming into the club and playing football, is life-changing for them, because otherwise they wouldn't have been doing anything. One of our players Debbie wrote an article with This Girl Can about her mental health and how it's changed her life through being able to come and meet new people, and have that support network. Vivien, who talks about how her confidence has grown, is 66 and you just wouldn’t think that when you see her running around, she's just amazing, and now so many women look at her and are inspired by her.


"When we first started COGs, there wasn't really a genre called women's recreational football, and seven-and-a-half years later I’ve been working on the EURO 2022 Legacy Programme where The FA and Sport England have invested £1million into it, so there are now women's recreational football officers employed around the host cities to increase the number of women involved in activity. That’s a pretty effective legacy. 

"One thing that doesn't get talked about enough is menopause. I honestly don't know where I would have been if I hadn't been active during menopause. It’s just simple things – women can put on weight around the middle during menopause, and some women become increasingly anxious, so staying active really helps to keep your confidence levels up. Then, just being with other women in similar situations, they are in a safe space where they can feel supported and empowered, and everybody is treated equally and can do the activity at their own pace, no pressure. It's really important."


Eddie Brocklesby, founder of Silverfit: "Because of my background in social work and running an adoption agency, I’ve always been committed to gathering data to show the difference we are making. We started Silverfit around the time of the London Olympics and I think it was fundamentally my social work experience that made me want to go to areas of greater economic deprivation where we could we knew we could have a bigger impact. There’s no doubt we can make a greater difference to the ageing population in those areas. We target over 45 year olds, but actually our average age group is 70. At Silverfit we know that what keeps people staying active is the opportunity to socialise at the same time, and that’s why we've got a very high retention rate. And a key part is recognising that people want to have fun. They want to be able to come out, meet up socially and have fun. I remember talking at one physical activity conference, at around 3pm, and I think I was the first person to use the word fun! It’s absolutely essential that we retain that sense of people wanting to come again. 

"As the co-founder of Silverfit, I wanted to make as big an impact as possible considering the ageing crisis that we are facing. We read every day about the huge issues that older people are facing, especially now with a cost-of-living crisis, and through Silverfit we can say for certain that participants who come to our sessions are going to their GPs for less medication. We were there at the start of social prescribing, we had Silverfit wellbeing advisors that we placed in GP practices and we worked with a mental health charity. It’s vital because we know that mental health issues, as well as the physical problems, are more prevalent, in less economically advantaged areas. We work with GLL Better, and there’s an exciting opportunity for Silverfit to expand with more leisure companies. But of course it can cost to be a member of a gym whereas with Silverfit we want to remove as many barriers to entry as possible. I think there’s real potential for expansion, and we want to work with more partners."

women in sport menopause

Steph Hilborne, CEO of Women in Sport: "We know that an active lifestyle reduces the risks of health inequalities for women in mid and later life like osteoporosis, arthritis and depression. But there are significant gendered differences in participation and those from deprived backgrounds have the least access to exercise. We found that 47% of women at midlife have less than 35 minutes of time for themselves. 

"We can avoid this significantly in two ways; firstly supporting women in taking on less of the unpaid care burden providing more time to take exercise. Secondly, provide free and relevant exercise for them that can be accessed locally within their communities. 

"At Women in Sport we take the time to really listen to women and girls and understand the complex barriers they face to being active, from fear of judgement to access to opportunity. We share these insights with the sport, leisure and community providers to help to break the cycle and inspire women to take part in sport."

Access Women in Sport's reports and films around women in midlife/menopause and during Covid.


Chris Wilkins, CEO of Sporting Memories: "While Sporting Memories works all over the UK we do try and focus on more deprived socio-economic areas. Anecdotally we do find that our members tend to be less physically active in poorer areas and often have a higher preponderance of co-morbidities while more affluent areas our members, across genders, tend to be more physically active before they join our clubs. "The activities of Sporting Memories have a particularly great impact on the more cognitively and physically frail older people we work with, helping to get those who are isolated and more sedentary, active again. We do this by first building up an individual’s emotional confidence and creating a failure-free environment where with the support of their peers and new friendships, they feel able to participate in both social and physical activities again. Through this pathway we are able to make significant improvements in the mental and physical wellbeing of older people including in those more deprived socio-economic communities so that they might remain active and independent into later life."


Rashida Salloo, CEO of Ready Steady Active: "The research by the Health Foundation does not come as a surprise to us as an organisation which operates in areas of deprivation with the aim of engaging women and girls to become more physically active. We see first hand the number of women who come to us with health conditions which may have been prevented if they had the opportunities to be active in their younger years including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and mobility issues. 

"Ready Steady Active works largely with women from South Asian and Muslim background, a group which has some of the lowest levels of physical activity due to the barriers and challenges they face which is further compounded with the inability to access sport and physical activity provision due to costs, family and care responsibilities which largely sit with women within this community and a lack of awareness of the impact physical activity and exercise can have on short and long term health. We try to address this locally through our sport and physical activity programmes including free community-based exercises classes, low-cost multi-sport sessions, older women’s sessions and health management programmes which focus on diabetes prevention. Our approach is to not only provide opportunities for women to get active locally but to help them on their journey to effect long term behaviour change. 

"The Government needs to prioritise and come up with strong support for the sector to be able address these drastic health inequalities. There needs to be some real investment and resources invested in these areas where providers like ourselves can offer provision locally at free or low cost to support women to get active. We need more facilities and safe spaces where activities can be delivered which could mean support with opening up local venues and making public parks safer for women to access as well as better connection between GPs and providers to work together to improve the health of women from all backgrounds so we can ensure all women have an equal opportunity to enjoy a healthier and happier later life."

Major study outlines wide health inequalities - read research from the Health Foundation.