Answers to common questions by the Sport England Team

What is the Active Lives Survey?

An Active Nation

People take part in sport and physical activity in diverse ways, with many doing a range of activities. The Active Lives Survey is a tool to help understand how people engage with sport and physical activity.

Like its predecessor, the Active People Survey, it will measure the number of people aged 16 and over who take part in sport and physical activity by demographic group, where people live and activity type.

With the introduction of Active Lives, we will also be able to measure some of the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) identified for the sector in the Government’s strategy Sporting Future and provide a much more nuanced understanding of behaviour.

We have designed the new survey to be as flexible as possible to support a wide range of measures. Visit the Sport England website for more information about those measures.

Survey methodology

The survey is a “push-to-web” survey that involves postal mailouts designed to encourage participants to complete the survey online.

The overall sample size is around 198,250 people each year. Our minimum annual sample size for each English local authority (excluding the City of London and Isles of Scilly) will be 500.

The survey sample is randomly selected from the Royal Mail’s Postal Address File (generally regarded as the “Gold Standard” for population surveys), which is a list of addresses in the UK that is maintained by the Royal Mail and has a very high coverage of private residential addresses.

Data has been weighted to ONS population measures for geography and key demographics.

Visit the Sport England website for more information about the survey.

Official Statistics

The Active Lives Survey is an Official Statistic, which means that statistics are produced impartially, and free from political influence.

Sport England subscribes to the UK Code of Practice for Official Statistics. The Code of Practice sets out common standards that should be followed by all UK organisations that produce official statistics.

Accessing data

The SPSS datasets are available (to not-for-profit, public sector and government organisations) via the UK Data Archive.

Active People Survey data - which was collected from 2005 to 2016 - is available via the Active People Interactive tool.

How to use active lives online:

Creating and understanding queries

Read the guide to getting started with Active Lives Online.

Selecting dimensions on the home page

The tool will only allow you to select up to two dimensions on the home page. This is because it is highly likely that, when slicing the data by a location, an activity, and then a demographic characteristic, there will not be a large enough cell count to be able to show a result. Please see “missing data” for more information about cell counts (below).

How to find out more information about the measures selected ?

When you have run your analysis, you can click on the “Edit Query” button at the top of the page for further information.

Exporting the data

You can choose to show your results as tables, charts or, where relevant, maps. You can then export your table as a CSV file, which can be opened by spreadsheet programmes such as MS Excel, while charts and maps can be exported as PDFs.

Missing data

There are three occasions where there won't be data. Firstly, some questions were only asked in certain survey waves, so if the question wasn't asked at that time, there's nothing to show you. Secondly, when the number of people answering the question (the count) is small (less than 30 people) we don't think the information is reliable enough to show the results.

Using a more technical explanation, when the count is below 30 we are not sufficiently confident the survey result is a true reflection of the situation in the population. When a count is below 30, different statistical rules apply so there is a technical reason for choosing this threshold. This threshold of a count of 30 is a commonly used principle in the publication of survey data.

There is a third occasion if selecting BMI or nutrition options. The data around these categories is owned by Public Health England, and will be supressed on the tool until they publish their annual figures.

Population data

The population data is from the Office of National Statistics Population Estimates.

If you need to turn percentage results into numbers of people, it is important to apply numbers from the relevant population for your query. For example, if you are looking at the percentages for females participating in England and Manchester, you need to apply these to the population of women in England and the population of women in Manchester respectively. It is also important to use the correct year of population data.

Active Lives Survey 2015/16 uses 2015 Mid-Year Estimates.

Active Lives Survey May 2016/17 (18 month): 2016 Mid-Year Estimates.

Geographical areas

Local authority is the smallest level at which the Active People survey can accurately measure results. For smaller geographical areas, there are too few respondents to produce reliable results.

Neighbouring areas

Selecting this option will show Local authorities which are bordering / located near to the one(s) selected.

Similar areas

Selecting this option will show Local authorities (or other geographical areas) which are similar in terms of socio-economic indicators (such as population size and demographic profile) as the one(s) selected.

Comparing data across years

Once you have chosen your query and the results are displayed, you can click a tab to show the data for the corresponding year.

The May 16/17 data contains six months of the Nov 15/16 data, so is not directly comparable.

Contact Us

If you need any help with the tool, or have any further questions about the data, please do get in touch at