Playboys of the western world? youth, leisure and sport in th eage of obesity

Por: K. Green.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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A broad consensus has emerged in recent years regarding the alleged role of sport and physical activity in young people’s lives as a means of combating the so-called ‘health crisis’ and attendant ‘obesity epidemic’ in the Western world. This paper represents an attempt to rectify what is taken to be the relative failure of those advocating active lifestyles through sport and physical activity - as a vehicle for health promotion - to make use of a sociological perspective on leisure and youth cultures. Grounded in recent sociological work on the changing nature of the transition from childhood to adulthood in the ‘Western world’ and the associated ‘new condition’ of youth (see, for example, Iacovou & Berthoud, 2001; Roberts, 1996, 1999; Vanreusel et al, 1997; Wyn, Tyler & Willis, 2002), the paper explores the place of sport and physical activity in young people’s leisure lives in Western Europe, focussing upon developments in the UK.
The paper examines the implications of a preoccupation with sport as a vehicle for health promotion in the light of what we are coming to know about young people’s lifestyles and leisure and sports participation patterns. The paper observes that contrary to the common-sense views of government, media and other interested parties, Western European countries have experienced relatively high levels of adult sports participation as well as higher youth retention rates in recent decades. Indeed, sports participation has, it seems, become part of present-day youth cultures in many Western European countries and, in particular, the UK. In conclusion, the paper points to more effective strategies for the promotion of active lifestyles among young people based upon the lessons to be learned from those societies in which youth retention rates are noticeably higher.


[1]. Iacovou, M. & Berthoud, R. (2001). Young people’s lives: a map of Europe. Colchester, University of Essex Institute for Social and Economic Research.
[2]. Roberts, K. (1996). Youth cultures and sport: the success of school and community sport provisions in Britain, European Physical Education Review, 2 (2), 105-115.
[3] Roberts, K. (1999). Leisure in Contemporary Society. Wallingford, CABI publishing.
[4]. Vanreusel, B., Renson, R., Beunen, G., Albrecht, L., Lefevre, J., Lysens, R. & Vanden Eynde, B. (1997) A Longitudinal Study of Youth Sport Participation and Adherence to Sport in Adulthood, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 32 (4), 373-387.
[5] Wyn, J., Tyler, D. and Willis, E. (2002). Researching the Post-1970 Generation: Reflections on the Life-Patterns Study of Australian Youth. Paper presented at XV World Congress of the International Sociological Association, Brisbane, Australia, July 7th-13th, 2002.



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