Health and Well Being

Young person playing hockey

Introduction to event impacts on mental and physical wellbeing

Major events have the potential to have positive effects on the people and communities that interact with them. They have the power to mobilise large numbers of people and create meaningful impacts on their lives in a number of different ways. This might simply be the creation of an enjoyable or pleasurable experience for spectators or, at an advanced level, this might be the creation of an opportunity that positively changes people’s long-term behaviour.

Some social impacts can be measured objectively, but the majority of social impacts involve subjective or perception-based indicators. Two of the most commonly used indicators of the social impact of events are “quality of life” and “subjective wellbeing”, both of which involve the perception of community members. Quality of life indicators measure a person’s “perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns”. On the other hand, subjective wellbeing measures are used to indicate a person’s “cognitive and affective evaluations of his or her life as a whole”, in other words, their sense of happiness or contentment. Subjective wellbeing indicators are widely used by policy makers to assess a range of different policies that aim to create non-market value – i.e. value which is not well captured in monetary terms.

Indicators relevant for these impacts recommended by OECD and ASOIF are:

  • % (of attendees/participants/local community) reporting change in health and wellbeing as a result of event (ASOIF reference SO-CE2.3)
  • % (of attendees/participants/local community) reporting change in quality of life as a result of event
  • % (of attendees/participants/local community) reporting change in health-related behaviour linked to event

The OECD has identified that these impacts contribute towards UN SDG relating to Health and Well-Being (Target 3.4). 


At a basic level, 'participation' can be viewed in terms of the number of people who attend an event and engage with event-related ancillary activities and programmes.  Broader measures to evaluate the success of an event include their impact on altering people's attitudes and behaviour towards sport participation and cultural engagement.

To assess the additional impact on event audiences, consideration should be given to the extent to which an event inspires/encourages:

  • disengaged people to become engaged e.g. previously inactive people doing sport
  • those who are already engaged to increase the regularity and intensity of participation e.g.  previously active people doing more sport.

Research commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport has found that cultural engagement and sport participation have a positive association with individuals' wellbeing.  In monetary terms, the value of the higher wellbeing from engagement in the arts is valued at £1,084 per person per year, whereas in the case of sport participation the corresponding value is £1,127.


Direct engagement

Simple indicators of engagement with an event such as the number of people that attend or participate in event related activities can be captured using in-house data held by organisers.  These provide an indication of the popularity of an event and its ability to attract specific groups.  For example, the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad included a wide range of events and activities that sought to engage with children and young people such as: StoryLab - Summer Reading Challenge, involving 890,120 young people in reading six books; and, the Tate Movie Project, which involved 37,108 children aged 5-11 years. 

In certain instances, an element of primary data collection with attendees (e.g. a survey) may be required to complement organiser data in order to identify their characteristics.  Some recommended indicators that are likely to be of interest to event stakeholders include:  

  • the number of attendees from the host area, which can include both active attendees (e.g. participants and volunteers) and passive attendees (audiences). The host area in this context can refer to the local authority in which an event takes place but can vary dependent on the remit of event stakeholders.
  • the number of attendees from the host area belonging to disadvantaged and/or minority ethnic backgrounds.  Disadvantaged groups relate to people from the most deprived parts of the host area and those in poverty.  In the UK, each of the four constituent countries measures deprivation using their own distinct index of multiple deprivation (IMD).  In England, for example, the IMD combines information from seven domain indices (which measure different types of deprivation) to describe how relatively deprived an area is.  The most widely used poverty measure in the UK is household income.  The Households Below Average Income (HBAI) survey sets the poverty line in the UK at 60 per cent of the median UK household income. If a household’s income is less than 60 per cent of this average, HBAI considers them to be living in poverty.
  • the number of children and young people from the host area engaged in event outreach programmes.  This relates to the number of people aged 25 and under who take part in arts/sport development programmes and ‘taster’ sessions organised by the event owner and/or partner organisations.


Whilst not an assessment of the long term impacts, it is possible to assess the impact of events on changing people's attitudes to participation, e.g. increasing their likelihood of being more physically or culturally active. 

The buzz and excitement surrounding events makes them a potential platform for promoting participation in sport and culture.  For example, some 38% of people surveyed as part of the London 2012 Festival audience survey felt that the UK hosting the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games had motivated them to do more cultural activities.  From a public health agenda, promoting physical activity is a core part of the UK government strategy to improve the health of the nation.

There is a growing body of research that looks at attitudinal changes caused by major events on people who attend them.  Research undertaken to measure the impact of the Edinburgh Festivals on cultural engagement utilised an audience survey which captured responses on a five-point Likert scale (strongly agree - agree - neither agree nor disagree - disagree - strongly disagree) and found evidence that:

  • The Festivals are a stimulus to further attendance at similar cultural events subsequently.
  • Audiences are more likely to take their children to similar cultural events as a result of their Festival experience.
  • Audiences are more likely to take greater risks in their cultural choices and explore new cultural experiences as a result of their Festival-going.

Research commissioned by UK Sport since 2010 involving thousands of surveys with spectators attending major sports events has measured the percentage of people who feel inspired by their event experience to increase their participation in sport and active recreation.  Spectators aged 16 and over were surveyed at the events using a standard self-completion survey.  Selected findings from a sample of events are shown in the graph below.

'I am inspired to do sport or recreational physical activity more frequently than I normally do'

Visualisation of data in a graph 

Citizens' panels and omnibus surveys can be used to measure changes in people's attitudes linked to an event.  Attitudinal research commissioned by UK Sport into the inspiration effect of major events on TV viewers using an omnibus survey of a representative sample of the British population found that:

  • Over two-thirds of the British population (68%) had watched a major sporting event on TV in the three months prior to interview; and
  • 28% of these viewers felt inspired to participate or to participate more frequently in sport as a result of watching a major event on TV.


A more thorough measurement of the participatory impact of events is by assessing the change in people's behaviour as a direct result of an event, e.g. the increase in their actual physical/cultural activity levels.

The likelihood of increasing participation can be measured during and/or following an event.  Measuring behaviour change requires post-event longitudinal research where behaviour is monitored over a period of time.

In order to examine subsequent changes in behaviour following events, the research commissioned by UK Sport since 2010 also included follow up research using an online survey of a sub-sample of spectators who had provided a valid email address at the time of the events.  Respondents were asked: (a) whether they were doing more, less or the same amount of sport that they were doing before they attended a particular event; (b) how influential (if at all) attending that event had been in leading them to undertake more sport.  This exercise revealed that around 35% of individuals had increased their sport participation levels in the three months following their attendance at one of the events and 24% said that this increase was to some extent influenced by the event.

Where the focus of event evaluation is on measuring changes at community/national level, annual surveys such as Sport England's Active People Survey, the Scottish Household Survey and the DCMS Taking Part survey can be used.  For example, Sport England's Active People Survey indicates that the percentage of adults in London taking part in sport increased marginally in the year following London 2012.

Simply hosting an event is unlikely to deliver meaningful increases in participation among attendees or the host community.  In order for events to drive the maximum possible participation legacy benefits certain mechanisms need to be in place.  For example, watching a sports event might inspire someone to take up sport or increase their frequency of participation at a given point in time.  However, how that feeling of inspiration (attitudinal change) is subsequently harnessed (e.g. through signposting and the provision of appropriate exit routes) will determine whether or not it eventually converts into sustainable behaviour change.