Sport and Recreation and Public Health

The purpose of this document is to assist local government sport, recreation and community sector professionals to better articulate the contribution their work makes to health promotion and the achievement of better public health outcomes.

The current Health Act in Western Australia was enacted in 1911. Since that time, our collective understanding of public health has changed significantly.

In the 1911 Act, attention was paid to the regulation of sanitation, housing standards, food safety, nuisance and offensive industries, the spread of infectious disease and the provision of primary health care services (access to medical, hospital and clinical services). All of the regulatory services outlined in the 1911 Act remain relevant – though may be delivered somewhat differently now, with many amendments made to the Act over the past one hundred years.

In 2014, a new Public Health Bill was introduced to the Western Australian Parliament. The development of the Bill is a major public health initiative and regulatory reform project for Western Australia. The new bill contains several objectives that relate to health promotion, preventive health and social equity. These include:

  • to promote and improve public health and wellbeing and to prevent disease, injury, disability and premature death;
  • to promote the provision of information to individuals and communities about public health risks;
  • to encourage individuals and communities to plan for, create and maintain a healthy environment;
  • to support programmes and campaigns intended to improve public health; and
  • to reduce the inequalities in public health of disadvantaged communities.

As outlined in the Public Health Bill 2014, local government will continue to play a significant role in enabling public health outcomes to be achieved. The functions of local government include:

  • to initiate, support and manage public health planning for its local government district; and
  • to develop and implement policies and programmes to achieve the objects of this Act within its local government district.

This expectation is supported by the Western Australian Local Government Act 1995 which requires local governments to play an active role in meeting the social, economic and environmental needs of their communities.

In a guide to developing a local government public health plan published by the Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia, it is stated that a Public Health Plan should: Build on past experiences and have a balance of strategies that address the more traditional public health risks and legislative requirements with the emerging areas of and roles within the social health and chronic disease management strategies that promote community wellbeing and connectedness.

This new direction in planning for health calls for a more integrated approach to provision of facilities, programs and services to address chronic disease, mental health issues and social isolation in our communities. No one discipline is responsible for the health of a community and there is a need to clearly define level of responsibility, expected actions and outcomes. To achieve this, we need to work together.

Purpose of this document

Local government in Western Australia plays a significant role in all areas across the health spectrum. Unlike environmental health services, there is no legislative obligation for local governments to provide lifestyle services such as sport and recreation services, libraries and arts events, improve living standards through enhanced neighbourhood amenity, protect the natural environment or consider impacts on global ecosystems.

As a result much of what is provided by local government for community benefit is discretionary, with many social facilities and services contributing to community wellbeing and preventive health outcomes in meaningful ways. Without access to programs and services, and facilities and infrastructure for sport, recreation and community, our lives would be poorer and our health status lessened.

Apart from the well-documented benefits of participation in physical activity through sport and recreation, our lives are enriched through social interaction, connection to our community, and involvement in cultural and artistic events.

If we are to plan effectively for public health, the role of the sport, recreation and community sector in protecting and promoting physical, mental and general community health needs to be recognised and incorporated into strategic health planning.

The purpose of this document is to assist local government sport, recreation and community sector professionals to better articulate the contribution their work makes to health promotion and achievement of better public health outcomes.

The document itself is presented in several sections:

  • What is health?: An overview of contemporary understandings of health and the community health spectrum
  • Approaches to planning for health: A synopsis of current approaches to public health planning and integrated planning
  • Sport and recreation through the lens of health: A discussion regarding where sport, recreation and community professionals can best contribute to public health planning, and how sport, recreation and community services can add value to current practice by looking through the lens of health
  • Evaluating healthy outcomes: A brief guide to principles of evaluation with examples
  • Assessing community value of facilities, programs and services: A guide to current methods for determining community perceptions and worth placed on facilities and services