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Privileging the privileged: the public health focus on leisure time physical activity has contributed to widening socioeconomic inequalities in health
  1. Leon Straker1,
  2. Andreas Holtermann2,
  3. I-Min Lee3,
  4. Allard J van der Beek4,
  5. Emmanuel Stamatakis5
  1. 1School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  2. 2Department of Musculoskeletal Disorders and Physical Workload, National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Kobenhavn, Denmark
  3. 3Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  4. 4Public and Occupational Health, Amsterdam UMC - VUMC Campus, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  5. 5School of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Professor Leon Straker, School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, Curtin University, Perth, WA 6102, Australia; L.Straker{at}

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Leisure-time physical activity focus is a social bias, which widens the socioeconomic gap in health

Physical activity researchers have a long tradition of concern for socioeconomic inequities in health.1 Non-occupational factors, such as welfare support and access to high-quality healthcare, promote more socioeconomic equality. Physical activity research can also be a major driver. We propose that designing the occupational physical activity of the less privileged to be health enhancing can help to reduce the socioeconomic health gap.

Is there a social bias in current physical activity research and practice?

Over the last 50 years researchers have built a compelling case that leisure time physical activity is an important pathway to good health. Based on this evidence, public health messaging has focused largely on increasing leisure time physical activity.2 However, this advice has been disproportionately taken up by the privileged higher socioeconomic groups.3 On the other hand, leisure time physical activity is decreasing in the lower socioeconomic groups.4

This phenomenon—limited time spent in leisure time physical activity in the …

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  • Twitter @Leon_Straker, @profHoltermann, @M_Stamatakis

  • Contributors LS wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors contributed to the content of the manuscript and accepted the submitted version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.