Many Western governments have sought to encourage people to adopt more active lifestyles, as a way of reducing the growing costs of a seemingly infinite demand for health care. In this regard, sport, exercise and physical activity are often seen as equivalent tools to achieve the same goal. The central object of this paper is to subject such claims to a critical examination. More specifically, the paper seeks to examine: (i) the assumptions underlying what is one of the stated objectives of government sport programmes in Britain and the United States, namely to improve the nation's health; (ii) some of the key social differences between sport and physical activity, (iii) some of the health consequences of these social differences and (iv) some of the health implications for public policy designed to encourage greater participation in sport. It is argued that, while the health benefits of physical activity are clear, the health arguments in favour of competitive sport, and especially contact sport, are not persuasive and that public health policy should focus on promoting regular, moderate-intensity physical activity rather than competitive sport.
Keywords: Sport, Exercise, Physical Activity, Public Health Policy.