Sports-based recreation as a means to address social inequity in health: why, when, where, who, what, and how

BMC Public Health. 2019 Aug 9;19(1):1084. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-7428-3.


The rising global burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) among people with low socioeconomic status (SES) has heightened awareness of the need for primary prevention programs in low-SES neighborhoods. Social inequity in health is apparent in mental, social and physical aspects of health among people living in low-SES neighborhoods. Viewing this problem from a life course perspective and adopting a vulnerable population approach points to the importance of inducing sustainable health behavior changes in children and young people living in low-SES neighborhoods. One important factor in lowering the risk of many NCDs while improving mental health is the promotion of physical activity (PA). In this paper, we argue that lowering the risk of many NCDs and improving mental health is best achieved through setting-based programs that facilitate long-term PA behavior changes in children and adolescents living in marginalized neighborhoods. Empirical evidence indicates that extrinsic motives for participating in physical activities, such as improving health, are insufficient when long-term participation is the goal. Therefore, we argue that interventions with the aim of affecting long-term PA in low-SES neighborhoods and thereby reducing social inequities in health should include activities that aim to create more intrinsic and autonomous motivations by building on more broad and positive understandings of health and participation. Here, we advocate that sports-based recreation (SR) holds several advantages. If implemented well, SR has the potential to be a health-promoting activity that is meaningful and motivating in itself and that involves physiological health-promoting aspects (e.g., PA), a social aspect (e.g., positive relations with others), and a psychological aspect (e.g., positive experiences of oneself). Further, we suggest four practicalities that should be considered when conducting interventions: the cost of participating, the location, the facilities required, and the suitability of the SR activities.

Keywords: Disadvantaged neighborhoods; Health; Low socioeconomic status; Noncommunicable diseases; Recreation; Social inequity in health; Youth.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Noncommunicable Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Poverty Areas*
  • Social Determinants of Health*
  • Sports*