Working Paper 13/311 - abstract

The Socioeconomic Gradient in Physical Inactivity in England (PDF, 895kB)

Lisa Farrell, Bruce Hollingsworth, Carol Propper and Michael A. Shields

Physical inactivity is recognised as an important precursor of chronic ill health. It is also recognised as a modifiable health behaviour, so knowing who is physically inactive is important for design of policy interventions to reverse the increase in physical inactivity. Studies examining the correlates of physical inactivity have identified socioeconomic position and aspects of the geographical environment as important. In this paper we contribute to this literature by exploiting detailed data on over one million individuals in England to more precisely identify and separate the associations between several measures of physical inactivity, different aspects of socioeconomic position and a wide range of local geographical factors. Our results show high levels of physical inactivity and clear separate associations with important dimensions of socioeconomic position. Education, household income and local area deprivation are all independently and strongly associated with inactivity, controlling for local availability of physical recreation and sporting facilities, the local weather and regional geography. Importantly, local area facilities and geographical factors explain very little of the variation in physical inactivity in England. Further, the income gradient increases with age and more financially costly forms of physical activity are associated with larger socioeconomic position differences, suggesting that financial as well as cultural barriers need to be overcome to reduce inactivity prevalence.