Objective: To examine temporal trends in participation in sport and exercise activities in England between 1997 and 2006 while taking into account wider societal changes.
Design: A series of annual cross-sectional surveys.
Setting and participants: Nationally representative samples of men (n = 27 217) and women (n = 33 721) aged ⩾16 years.
Main outcome measures: Any (more than once every 4 weeks) and regular (more than once a week) participation in overall sport and exercise and a number of sport and exercise groupings (eg cycling, swimming, gym and fitness club-based activities (G/FC), racquet 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 for men (multivariable-adjusted participation OR = 1.11 in 2006, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.19, p<0.001) and from 31.2% to 33.9% for women (1.21, 1.13 to 1.29, p<0.001). Regular G/FC increased from 17.0% to 19.2% for men (1.19, 1.09 to 1.30) and from 15.9% to 18.7% for women (1.23, 1.14 to 1.33) and regular running increased from 2.4% to 4.0% for women only (1.84, 1.56 to 2.18). Overall increases were apparent only in older adults (⩾45 years) (1.25, 1.16 to 1.35, p<0.001). Young men (16–29 years) had reduced ORs for cycling (0.72, 0.58 to 0.88, p = 0.008), dancing (0.60, 0.45 to 0.82, p = 0.001), running (0.78, 0.64 to 0.94, p<0.001) and racquet sports (0.60, 0.42 to 0.86, p = 0.003). In men, increases were pronounced only among men from non-manual social classes, higher income households and white ethnic backgrounds.
Conclusions: Sports and exercise participation in England has changed between 1997 and 2006 as the result of increases among middle-aged and older adults and decreases among young men. There are no signs that the participation gap between less and more advantaged population groups is narrowing.
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Funding: ES is funded by the National Institute for Health Research.
Competing interests: ES is an academic advisor for the Active People Survey, which is funded by Sport England. One of the aims of this survey is the tracking of time trends in sports and exercise participation of adults living in England.
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