Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How many people run?!

A month ago I go an email with details of a survey commissioned by Weight Watchers about levels of activity. It was issued to support their Move More campaign (which wanted people commit to complete 650 minutes of exercise in May - so I am well late on this and anything I say is therefore irrelevant) and is in the PR tradition of producing findings that might generate some newspaper or magazine inches. In this case they wanted to shock us with our own laziness:
Do you consider yourself to be a lazy person?
Do you regularly drive short distances, when walking is a viable option?
Do you tend to duck out of regular exercise sessions when you’d rather do something else’ e.g. catch up with friends, relax on the sofa?When you get home from work, do you tend to wind down completely, and find it hard to motivate yourself to get up and out of the house again?
These are the first four questions and the set the tone of looking at what people don't do rather than what they do. It is an invitation for people to beat-up on themselves and admit they fall short. The results can be seen here and the aim is obviously to show how much, as a nation, we need the Weight Watchers campaign. Because they got the answers they wanted I would normally not pay it much attention, except my eye was drawn to the type exercise people said they would do.
By a huge margin running/jogging is the most popular 40% of respondents, way more than the next most popular activity: cycling, with 22%. Wow we runners really are taking over the world! But I don't believe it. The sport is popular but it is not so dominant.
The Active People Survey, conducted by Sport England, is a high quality survey based on interviewing 160,000 people aged 16 and above (500 in each local authority) to give a reliable representation of participation in sport in the country. In the latest result  of all activities done at least once a week for a minimum of 30 minutes, swimming was the most popular. 2,807,200 people swim, 2,184,600 play football, 1,981, 800 run (the category is actually athletics which will also include throwers and jumpers), and 1,922,500 cycle. A very different picture.
How to reconcile that discrepancy? You cannot.  So the only question is 'which figures do you trust?' and the answer is not very difficult. One is a source of information you can use, the other is not. But how many people reading an article quoting the Weight Watchers survey would know the official figures? It is a reminder that we all have to be vigilant about all statistics we see quoted in the press. We have to ask ourselves where they came from and what is the scope and reliability of the data and take nothing at face value.
P.S. The Weight Watchers campaign actually looked like quite decent initiative
P.P.S. The 'signs you are being lazy' list was a heap of bizarre.  Look at it and wonder how they made it up.

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