Manifesto - Health & Wellbeing

YMCA has a unique approach to health and wellbeing. We recognise the relationships that exist between the three pillars of health; physical, psychological and social wellbeing, and take an approach that aims to treat health holistically. Through our own research, we also believe that a service-user led approach adds significant value to a traditional health and wellbeing delivery model. Certainly when working with disengaged young people we know that they are more likely to take health advice from a peer than from an adult or person in authority.

Staying healthy is about the lifestyle choices we make and cost is seen by many as one of the biggest issues to being healthy and active. Where previously cost would not be a factor when accessing facilities the reduction in community spaces in which young people can play sports has resulted in the only options available being the ones which have a financial cost associated with them. Nearly half of 16-25 year olds fail to play sport once a week for 30 minutes or more[i] and only 18% of 15 year olds achieve the Chief Medical Officers recommendation for physical activity[ii]. The awareness of these guidelines outside of the sector is poor and the guidelines themselves are difficult to understand and communicate to people. Poverty is also a significant indicator in the likelihood of suffering health inequalities and it is clear that the toughest communities require the most support.

The reduction in youth provision budgets has also created a lack of activities for young people to engage with and this has contributed to more young people staying within their homes and engaging in non-physically based activities. The impact a family has on a young person’s engagement in physical activity is vital for long-term engagement; physically active young people are far more likely to go on to be physically active adults and parents who will then pass on their lifestyle behaviours to their own children. With physical inactivity contributing to more deaths than smoking it is vital we build a culture and communities that promotes an active lifestyle.

Alcohol has a major impact on the health and wellbeing of young people. Although there has been a recent decline in the amount of time young people drink during the week they are now more prone to heavy episodic or binge drinking when they do[iii]. Accordingly this has resulted in an upward trend in admissions to hospitals in England[iv].

From speaking to young people we know that limiting access to drugs and alcohol is the most effective way to stop usage. Accessing alcohol from shops is still too easy and there should be stricter punishments for selling alcohol to young people. Likewise those who attempt to buy alcohol on behalf of young people should also face stricter punishment.

When accessing alcohol, price is also a factor maintaining its widespread availability. At the lower end of the market alcohol is far too cheap and for very little expense young people can become easily intoxicated. Alongside this the rise of shops which sell ‘legal highs’ to young people is a worrying trend; currently there is little action which can be taken to protect young people from accessing these highs and more powers should be given to the police to combat this.

We know that what it means to be healthy is of importance to young people and the way their body and image is perceived matters immensely. More than half the UK population suffers from body image anxiety, a leading cause of depression, low self-esteem, poor participation at school and lack of progression at work. It particularly affects young people, with children as young as five now worrying about how they look, and appearance the largest single concern for a third of girls and a fifth of boys by the age of ten.

This is why YMCA is playing a major role in the Be Real Campaign[vi], a national movement made up of individuals, schools, businesses, charities and public bodies. YMCA believes that Government has an important role to play in regulating the use of negative body imagery in advertising and encouraging health and body diversity. Alongside this the education received by young people at school should also reflect concerns around body image and the introduction of Personal Social Health Education (PSHE) as a mandatory subject on the national curriculum and body confidence to be taught at primary and secondary level would support this.


  • Commitment to protect and enhance investment in community sport initiatives which engage young people in physical activity, particularly in areas of high deprivation and where traditionally communities have been most hard to reach.
  • Consider simplifying the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) guidelines on physical activity (or at least have simpler public facing guidelines supported by the existing quantifiable guidelines). Whilst these guidelines may often be communicated to the public by professionals they should be aimed and understood by everyone.
  • As deliverers of commissioned health and wellbeing projects, including interventions to reduce inactivity, YMCA feels that there should be better understanding and training across health professionals of the importance of physical activity.
  • A coordinated awareness campaign to be launched which tackles the dangers of using alcohol and drugs irresponsibly. This should be delivered in schools and youth clubs through innovative and interactive methods which use strong and shocking examples and imagery.
  • The Government’s ‘Talk to FRANK’ campaign was highlighted as being outdated and ineffective. This should be reformed and updated.
  • Introduce a minimum unit price of alcohol.
  • More powers introduced to support local police in combatting the use of ‘legal highs’ by children and young people.
  • Expansion of early intervention programmes to support parents who have drug and alcohol problems to help break the cycle of these problems being passed down to their children.
  • Stronger punishments on shops that supply alcohol to underage customers and those who try to buy alcohol illegally.
  • We want to see PSHE made mandatory on the national curriculum and body confidence to be taught at primary and secondary level.
  • The Department of Health policies should focus on promoting healthy living and wellbeing before weight loss and appearance.
  • The Government should put pressure on media, businesses and advertisers to act responsibly and actively promote different body shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities.
  • The Government has an important role to play in regulating the use of negative body imagery in advertising and encouraging health and body diversity.


[i] Sport England, Active People Survey 7 Q2, June 2013
[ii] Association for Young People’s Health, Key Data on Adolescence 2013, 2013
[iii] ONS, Drinking, in ‘General Lifestyle Survey, 2011’, March 2013 
[iv] Institute of Alcohol Studies, Young People and Alcohol factsheet, 2013 
[v] All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image, Reflections on Body Image, 2012
[vi] Be Real Campaign website