Quarter of world's population 'not active enough to stay healthy'

Alicia Farmer
September 7, 2018

The report's authors warned that as things stood the WHO's 2025 target of reducing global inactivity by 10% would be missed.

Global exercise levels did not improve significantly between 2001 and 2016, and the World Health Organization is not on track to meet its 2025 target of reducing physical inactivity by 10 percent.

The study found people were less active by income - 16 percent for low and 37 percent in high. Insufficient physical activity rose 5 percent in high-income countries, and increased just 0.2 percent in low-income countries.

Interestingly, 33.6 per cent of Australian women are not getting enough exercise compared to 27 per cent of men.

"Most women are diagnosed late, are under treated and have larger complications because they tend to neglect health and drop out from treatment more than men", said Chennai-based diabetologist Dr Anjana Mohan, who was a part of the study.

More than 1.4 billion adults are putting themselves at heightened risk of deadly diseases by not getting enough exercise, doctors are warning, with global activity levels virtually unchanged in almost two decades.

More women than men reported themselves to be insufficiently active, with a 10% or greater margin between the sexes in three regions: South Asia (43% of women inactive vs. 24% of men), Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa (40% vs. 26%), and high-income Western countries (42% vs. 31%).

The findings appear in The Lancet Global Health journal.

Of particular concern were increases in already low levels of physical activity for men and women. "Collaboration across sectors could generate significant returns, because policies that support increasing physical activity can provide other benefits to health, local economies, community wellbeing, and environmental sustainability".

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In four countries, more than half of adults were insufficiently active - Kuwait (67%), American Samoa (53%), Saudi Arabia (53%), and Iraq (52%).

Where are physical inactivity levels highest?

Uganda and Moazmbique showed least inactivity at 6 percent.

The surveys took note of physical activity in work, at home, for transport and during leisure time - so we have no excuses. "This puts more than 1·4 billion adults at risk of developing or exacerbating diseases linked to inactivity, and needs to be urgently addressed", they write.

They acknowledged new policies in global and national level, but said implementation will require "bold leadership and full engagement" across sectors to change the current approach.

Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, and has a negative effect on mental health and quality of life, the report authored by four WHO experts says.

In wealthier countries, a transition towards more sedentary jobs as well as sedentary forms of recreation and transport could explain higher levels of inactivity.

"Although a recent NCD policy survey showed that nearly three quarters of countries report having a policy or action plan to tackle physical inactivity, few have been implemented to have national impact", Bull said.

"Technological advancement has made our life more convenient but also less active".

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