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How coronavirus has hit Black and Asian adults' activity levels especially hard

Our director of insight Lisa O'Keefe delves into our latest Active Lives Adult Survey report and takes a look at the pandemic's impact on Black and Asian people.

04th November 2021

by Lisa O'Keefe
Director of Insight, Sport England

Our latest Active Lives Adult Survey report highlights the impact coronavirus (Covid-19) has had on physical activity levels in England.  

Covering the period from May 2020 to May 2021, the report paints a stark but unsurprising picture of activity levels across the country during the worst months of the pandemic. 

Yet, while everyone has been impacted in some way by the restrictions designed to stop the spread of the disease, the report underlines the fact that certain groups and demographics have been hit harder than others.   

A black woman working out at a fitness class

It shows that Black and Asian (excluding Chinese) adults have been disproportionately impacted, and this blog will explore in more detail how these communities have been affected and some of the reasons behind this.  

Just 52% of Black adults and 48% of Asian adults met the Chief Medical Officer guidelines for activity levels between May 2020 and May 2021 compared to 61% of the whole population.  

When we delve a little deeper, the findings are even more startling.  

Asian adults showed a decrease of 60 minutes per week of activity across the full year between May 2020-21 compared to the previous 12 months. Although there's been some recovery during mid-March to mid-May 2021, activity levels still remain largely below the same period in 2019 (-8.2%). 

Across the full year, those identifying as Black did an average of 75 minutes less activity per week, compared to May 2019-20.   

For Black adults, it was those aged 16-54 who saw the fall in activity across the year (-6.8%); with males’ activity levels falling by 9.0%.  

The lockdowns also made activity especially difficult for Asian and Black men. These groups saw a fall in activity equivalent to 17.4% and 18.1% respectively during mid-January to mid-March 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. They also saw a large fall in activity during the first lockdown too (-20.8% and -19.5%).   

The financial challenges may pose additional barriers to staying active for the longer-term, as the cost of living has been rising and there may be less disposable income for adults to undertake their preferred types of activity.

This matters as sport and activity enable people to have fun, make friends, be healthy and build stronger community connections. 

As well as the physical benefits, the mental health and wellbeing of people is boosted, communities become more cohesive, and the economic impact creates added value locally and nationally, as well helping individual employment prospects. 

So, why are Black and Asian (excluding Chinese) adults less likely to be active? Why did their activity levels fall more during the pandemic? And what can we do about it? 

There is no simple answer, but we suspect it is due to a number of factors – including concerns about catching or spreading coronavirus and reduced opportunity to be active, whether that be in those activities which typically see higher rates of participation amongst these ethnicity groups such as team sports, racket sports, walking for travel, combat sports and martial arts or in available alternatives.

Our research also identified concerns with regard to exercising alone or outdoors, which would have significantly reduced available alternatives especially during lockdown. 

The fact that adults from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to live in deprived, urban areas is also a factor, as those based in inner cities were less likely to stay active during lockdown compared to those based in rural areas.  

These culturally diverse communities are more likely to have suffered higher financial stresses like furlough and unemployment as well. The financial challenges may pose additional barriers to staying active for the longer-term, as the cost of living has been rising and there may be less disposable income for adults to undertake their preferred types of activity. As ever the key is to really understand what is shaping attitudes, choices and behaviours and work with groups to create an environment where they feel able to be more active. 

At Sport England, we take these findings seriously. Tackling inequalities is a central part of our strategy, Uniting the Movement. Before the end of this year, we’ll publish an implementation plan which will set out our focus for the next three years through to 2025, and one of the priorities will be helping these groups to be more active.  

We’ve already launched our new £20m Together Fund that builds on the work of our £20m Tackling Inequalities Fund, while our campaigns Join the Movement, This Girl Can and We Are Undefeatable are continuing to help people stay active and provide guidance on how to find free, accessible activities.    

  • Where % change is reported, this is referring to percentage point change, rather than proportional change. 172,970 adults responded to the Active Lives Adult Survey in total during May 2020 to May 2021). 

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