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GPs at gyms and standardised health screenings – RSPH calls for leisure to play an enhanced role in public health

Having GPs based in gyms and health clubs – where they could work together with exercise professionals to get those struggling with obesity more active – is among key recommendations made in a new report published jointly by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and ukactive.

The Going the Distance: Exercise professionals in the wider public health workforce report, published this week, explores how fitness professionals and the leisure sector could play an enhanced role in supporting public health services.

Among its findings is that overweight and obese people would be more likely to sign up to fitness and exercise classes if urged to do so by their family doctor in a fitness centre.

Patients are also more likely to take up the recommendation to exercise if they are given specific advice – such as a weekly swimming session or a dance class – and if access to activities is made easy.

Therefore, the report calls for the presence of GPs at places of exercise, as it would allow the prescribing of fitness classes to those who are "exercise-shy" on the spot. The patients could then be immediately supported by exercise professionals, making the exercise-led intervention more likely to succeed.

Having GPs stationed at gyms is one of 10 key recommendations in the report.

These include the establishment of a public health information and resource hub for exercise professionals, the development of standardised health screening tools across the fitness industry, and local health professionals and authorities to build stronger links with fitness facilities.

There is also a call for The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) to finalise "robust professional standards" for all exercise professionals in the UK, incorporating a broader public health focus.

“In a climate of ongoing cuts to public health budgets, it has been acknowledged for some time that the public health challenges currently facing the nation are too great to be tackled by the core public health workforce alone," said Shirley Cramer, RSPH chief executive.

"As such, developing, upskilling and empowering other workforces with the opportunity to improve public health has become a vital focus of RSPH’s work.

“As this report demonstrates, exercise professionals have a great opportunity to be an active part of this wider public health workforce, and there is appetite from the public for this to happen.

"Our recommendations set out a blueprint for making this ambition a reality, in a way that is effective and evidence-based.”

Steven Ward, ukactive CEO, added: "Exercise professionals have an important role to play as part an extended public health workforce – from advising on nutrition to signposting to smoking cessation and mental health support.

"This report demonstrates a clear appetite for exercise professionals in the fitness sector to play an even greater role in addressing public health challenges.

“The potential for our workforce to augment our health system with timely interventions is game-changing – it is now important we give fitness professionals the tools, knowledge and qualifications to deliver for public health.”

To find more about the report – and to download a copy – click here for the RSPH website.

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