Every one in four adults globally are physically inactive, accounting for 28% or 1.4 billion adults. In some countries it could be one in three individuals even, new data published in The Lancet Global Health has said.
The paper, authored by four experts of the World Health Organization, reports data that update 2008 estimates on levels of activity and, for the first time, reports trend analyses showing that overall, the global level of inactivity in adults remains largely unchanged since 2001.
Women were less active than men, with an over 8% difference at the global level (32% men vs 23%, women). High income countries are more inactive (37%) compared with middle income (26%) and low income countries (16%).
These data show the need for all countries to increase the priority given to national and sub-national actions to provide the environments that support physical activity and increase the opportunities for people of all ages and abilities, to be active every day.
The new Global Action Plan on Physical Activity sets the target to reduce physical inactivity by 10% by 2025 and 15% by 2030, the report says. .
Regular physical inactivity increases risk of poor health, including cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer and diabetes, falls, as well as mental health conditions. Publication of levels of participation in children and young people are forthcoming.
“Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health,” warns the study’s lead author, Dr Regina Guthold of the WHO, Switzerland.
The new study is based on self-reported activity levels, including activity at work and at home, for transport, and during leisure time, in adults aged 18 years and older from 358 population-based surveys in 168 countries, including 1.9 million participants.
Among the study’s main findings were that in 2016, levels of insufficient activity among adults varied widely across income groups – 16% in low-income countries compared to 37% in high-income countries. In 55 (33%) of 168 countries, more than a third of the population was insufficiently physically active while in four countries, more than half of adults were insufficiently active – Kuwait (67%), American Samoa (53%), Saudi Arabia (53%), and Iraq (52%).
Countries with the lowest levels of insufficient physical activity in 2016 were Uganda and Mozambique (6% each). Women were less active than men in all regions of the world, apart from east and south east Asia. In 2016, there was a difference in levels of insufficient activity between women and men of 10 percentage points or more in three regions: South Asia (43% vs 24%), Central Asia, Middle East and north Africa (40% vs 26%), and high-income Western countries (42% vs 31%). Across regions, many individual countries recorded large differences in insufficient activity between women and men. Examples include Bangladesh (40% vs 16%), Eritrea (31% vs 14%), India (44% vs 25%), Iraq (65% vs 40%), Philippines (49% vs 30%), South Africa (47% vs 29%), Turkey (39% vs 22%), the USA (48% vs 32%), and the UK (40% vs 32%), the study said.
From 2001-2016, substantial changes in insufficient physical activity levels were recorded in multiple regions. The regions with the highest increase in insufficient activity over time were high-income Western countries (from 31% in 2001 to 37% in 2016), and Latin America and the Caribbean (33% to 39%). Countries from these regions driving this trend include Germany, New Zealand, the USA, Argentina, and Brazil.
The region with the largest decrease in insufficient activity was east and south east Asia (from 26% in 2001 to 17% in 2016), which was largely influenced by uptake of physical activity in China, the most populated country in the region. There has been an increase of 5% in prevalence of insufficient activity in high-income countries, from 32% in 2001 to 37% in 2016. In comparison, there has been an average rise of just 0.2% amongst low-income countries (16.0% to 16.2%).
In wealthier countries, the transition towards more sedentary occupations, recreation and motorised transport could explain the higher levels of inactivity, while in lower-income countries, more activity is undertaken at work and for transport, according to the authors. While declines in occupational and domestic physical activity are inevitable as countries prosper, and use of technology increases, governments must provide and maintain infrastructure that promotes increased walking and cycling for transport and active sports and recreation.
The study’s release comes ahead of the Third United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on NCDs and their risk factors, including physical inactivity, being held on 27 September 2018 in New York.