Objective: To examine temporal trends in participation in sport and exercise activities (SPEX) in England between 1997 and 2006 while taking into account wider societal changes.
Design: A series of annual cross-sectional surveys. Setting & participants: Nationally-representative samples of men (N=27,217) and women (N=33,721) aged ≥16 yrs.
Main outcome measurements: Any (≥once/four weeks) and regular (≥once/week) participation in overall SPEX, and a number of SPEX groupings (e.g. cycling, swimming, gym and fitness club-based activities (G/FC), racket sports) . Time point (1997/98, 2003/04, 2006) was the main dependent variable.
Results: Age-standardised overall regular participation changed from 40.8% in 1997/98 to 41.2% in 2006 in men (multivariable-adjusted participation odds in 2006:OR 1.11, 95%CIs: 1.03-1.19, p<0.001) and from 31.2% to 33.9% in women (1.21, 1.13-1.29, p<0.001). Regular G/FC increased from 17.0% to 19.2% in men (1.19, 1.09-1.30) and from 15.9% to 18.7% in women (1.23, 1.14-1.33), regular running increased from 2.4% to 4.0% in women only (1.84, 1.56-2.18). Overall increases were apparent only in older adults (≥45 years) (1.25, 1.16-1.35, p<0.001). Young men (16-29 yrs) had reduced odds for cycling (0.72, 0.58-0.88, p=0.008), dancing (0.60, 0.45-0.82, p=0.001), running (0.78, 0.64-0.94, p<0.001) and racket sports (0.60, 0.42-0.86, p=0.003). In men increases were pronounced only among men from nonmanual social classes, higher income households and white ethnic backgrounds.
Conclusions: SPEX participation in England has changed between 1997 and 2006 as the result of increases among middle-aged and older adults and decreases among young males. There are no signs that the participation gap between less and more advantaged population groups is narrowing.
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