Can Nordic sport sciences research  improve public health?

Can Nordic sport sciences research improve public health?

Obesity, overweight and inactivity comprise one of the major health problems of our time. In the current generation, sometimes called the XXL generation, the percentage of overweight children and adolescents has doubled in 10 years. This highly relevant topic is addressed in the “International Evaluation of Sport Sciences in the Nordic Countries”, a report that evaluates Nordic research on sport, exercise and physical health.

From elite sport to public health

“Sport sciences” is an umbrella term for multidisciplinary research in the areas of exercise, physical activity and public health. The report evaluates sport sciences research in the Nordic countries and presents recommendations for strengthening the field.

The report shows that a shift has occurred from elite sport research (the performance of elite athletes) to research on health, welfare and physical activity – a welcome development in keeping with modern health challenges. Consequently, the report puts emphasis on research related to welfare and health.

A research field with great Nordic potential

The report presents several important recommendations on how to further develop Nordic sport sciences research. Among these is a proposed pan-Nordic project that explores whether exercise and physical activity have a preventive effect on chronic diseases. The increase in overweight is a health problem that affects many young people, and physical inactivity is one of the main causes. According to the report, it is therefore important to learn why this occurs and to develop strategies for reversing this trend. The national health registries in the Nordic region can play a vital role in this regard. The report also states that it is crucial to enhance the funding schemes for sport sciences research, and recommends establishing a Nordic Centre of Excellence (NCoE) in the field.

At a health and welfare conference in Oslo on 8 March 2012, Mikael Fogelholm, who served as chair for the evaluation committee, said there is every reason to be optimistic about the future development of the research field in the Nordic region. He believes that Nordic cooperation will generate good synergy effects. “The various Nordic countries have their strengths within different disciplines, and together they can form a complementary team that can deliver important, high calibre research results,” says Dr Fogelholm.

Download the publication "Sport Sciences in the Nordic Countries.

Text: Marius Hagen

Photo: Terje Heiestad