Trends to Insufficient Physical Activity

WHO Global Health Report
24/09/2018 14:18

Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases, and has a negative effect on mental health and quality of life.


That is the result of a publication from the World Health Organisation which was published in the Lancet Global Health Journal.


The health benefits of physical activity are well-established and include a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and breast and colon cancer. Additionally, physical activity has positive effects on mental health, delays the onset of dementia, and can help the maintenance of a healthy weight.


In recognition of this strong link between physical activity and major non-communicable diseases, member states of the WHO agreed to a 10% relative reduction in the prevalence of insufficient physical activity by 2025, as one of the nine global targets to improve the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases. Monitoring current levels and trends of insufficient physical activity is essential to track progress towards this global physical activity target, but also to identify high-risk populations, to assess the effectiveness of policy, and guide future policy and programme planning.


The first compilation of country data to produce global and regional estimates of insufficient physical activity was undertaken in the early 2000s, as part of the Global Burden of Disease study.


Bull and colleagues included data for physical activity from 34 mainly high-income countries, mostly focusing on leisure time physical activity. Activity performed in other domains (activity at work, in the household, and for transport) had to be estimated for most countries, in order to get comprehensive and comparable results.


The International Physical Activity Questionnaire and the Global Physical Activity Questionnaire   questionnaires were used to calculate the effect of insufficient physical activity on non-communicable diseases. Both sets of estimates were published in The Lancet Physical Activity Series. Mainly based on data from these questionnaires, WHO produced comparable estimates of insufficient physical activity in 122 countries in 2008, and updated them for 2010 for 146 countries.


These estimates showed a global prevalence of insufficient physical activity of 23·3%, with higher levels among women and older age groups.


Global age-standardised prevalence of insufficient physical activity was 27·5% (95% uncertainty interval 25·0–32·2) in 2016. The prevalence has been stable since 2001.


Progress towards achieving the global target of a 10% relative reduction of insufficient physical activity by 2025, has been too slow.


Accelerated action is needed to reverse trends in central and Eastern Europe, high-income Western countries, Latin American and the Caribbean, and south Asia.


Policies and programmes are also needed to achieve or maintain low levels of inactivity in other regions and in lower-income countries. Implementation of targeted evidence-based interventions presented in the Global Physical Activity Action Plan 2018–2030 will improve population health and help deliver many of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.


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