Assessing London 2012's Health Impact

An online article published by medical journal The Lancet on July 27 coincided with the celebration in London that the 2012 Summer Olympics is just one year away. Professor Kaye Wellings and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine argued in the article for a study on the long-term public health impacts of the games. Such a study could justify the enormous investment and benchmark the potential health gains of future games, they said.

"An emphasis on legacy . . . not just in terms of sporting infrastructure but also the effects of urban regeneration and the stimulus of physical activity and sports participation on the well-being of the population . . . is a unique and distinguishing feature of the 2012 Olympics," they wrote.

Jacques Rogge, president of the International OIympic Committee, took part in the July 27 unveiling of the 2012 Olympic medals in London. He spoke of the games' promised benefits, saying they are "now ideally placed not just to deliver top-level Olympic competition but also to leave a great legacy to the British people."

The games will cost more than £9 billion, the equivalent of £150 for every person living in the United Kingdom, and Britons have been promised a wide range of lasting benefits that include "urban regeneration of one of the most impoverished parts of the country [with] the potential to help by creating affordable housing, doubling the area of green space, and increasing employment opportunities," according to a news release from the school describing their article. "In the past, host countries have failed to assess the health and social effects of regeneration programmes, and this lack of a public health vision has led to missed opportunities and damaging health outcomes." The authors wrote that that lack of previous assessments "is partly attributable to the complex effects of non-health interventions on health, particularly interventions that are implemented across a large geographical area with major physical change."

The UK Department of Culture, Media, and Sport has commissioned a meta-evaluation for the 2012 games to address sport and physical activity, regeneration, culture, sustainability, the economy, and disability, but the authors argued these initiatives will not be easy to measure. "Undertaking the meta-evaluation will require agility, methodological flexibility and a substantial research effort [and] will require the understanding that the real legacy of the Olympics might have greater effects on the social and structural determinants of health than on health itself.... [But] the dividend will be that not only the host nation obtains evidence on the benefits and costs of such an enormous investment, but also future candidate cities will have improved evidence on the possible gains for health of staging the Games, how best to maximise these gains, and what pitfalls to avoid."

Posted by Jerry Laws on Aug 01, 2011