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New US participation data reveals positive trend: But lower income groups are still less physically active

Comment by ISCA President Mogens Kirkeby.


I like good news. I especially like good news about rates of participation in sport and recreational physical activity. This month, the Sport & Fitness Industry Association in America published national 2019 figures and these numbers show an overall increase in participation with 3 million more Americans entering the category of being physically active.


Figures like these are, of course, are only applicable to their local/national context. But they can also indicate potential for a broader positive development. Any increase is encouraging – particularly in larger countries – when we are used to hearing stories about stagnation or decreases in participation.


The figures illustrate that participation in ‘Fitness’, as an overall category, is increasing, and this goes for the various disciplines or activities we associate with working out and keeping fit. Participation in team sport as a whole has increased, but in the 23 team sports examined, 16 actually reported a decrease in participation. But this decrease was outweighed by the 7 team sports that reported increased participation, including basketball (2.9 percent), outdoor soccer (4.5 percent), volleyball (2.7 percent) and flag football (3.2 percent).


The overall decrease in traditional team sport participation is something we can recognise in other countries as well. But shifts in popularity of certain types of physical activity will always be the case. People will always change their preferences and habits. The challenge is to make people change to another activity – not stop their participation all together.


Another finding in the American report follows a more global tendency. I have mentioned before that sport (participation) is in economic terms a so-called “normal good”, meaning that with higher income you will consume more (in this case physical activity, by being more active). In other words: Groups with lower income are likely to be significantly less active than higher income groups. This trend is underlined in the American figures and is, unfortunately, persisting around the world.


You can find a summary of the US report here and if you would like to share your own national figures on participation in sport and physical activity, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Photo: Thomas Dils, Unsplash