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Physical inactivity kills over 3 million every year

World Health Organization urges concerted action on obesity and inactivity

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Physical inactivity kills approximately 3.2 million people each year according to a new briefing paper from the World Health Organization (WHO).

It says physical inactivity is a key risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes, and estimates that one in three adults across the globe is not active enough.

Being overweight is also in danger of becoming the new norm for children as well as adults across Europe. In 23 out of the 36 European nations the WHO says more than 30% teenagers over 15 are not getting exercise and eating the wrong sorts of foods.

The paper says the drop in physical activity is partly due to inaction during leisure time and sedentary behaviour at work and at home. Likewise, an increase in the use of 'passive' modes of transportation also contributes to physical inactivity.

Environmental factors linked to urbanization can discourage people from becoming more active, such as fear of violence and crime in outdoor areas, traffic and air pollution, and lack of sports facilities.

Policies to address physical inactivity are operational in 56% of WHO Member States, who have agreed to try to reduce physical inactivity by 10% by 2025. But the task is becoming ever more onerous as levels of physical inactivity have increased across the world.

Globally, around 31% of adults aged 15 and over were not active enough in 2008 (men 28% and women 34%). In high-income countries, 41% of men and 48% of women were insufficiently physically active, as compared to 18% of men and 21% of women in low-income countries. Low or decreasing physical activity levels often correspond with a high or rising gross national product.

The WHO says both, society in general and individuals can take action to increase physical activity. In 2013, WHO Member States agreed to reduce physical inactivity by 10% in the framework of the "Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases 2013-2020".

Policies and plans to address physical inactivity have been developed in about 80% of WHO Member States, though these are operational in only 56% of the countries. National and local authorities are also adopting policies in a range of sectors to promote and facilitate physical activity.

The 'Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health', adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2004, describes the actions needed to increase physical activity worldwide. The Strategy urges stakeholders to take action at global, regional and local levels to increase physical activity.

The 'Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health', published by WHO in 2010, focus on primary prevention of NCDs through physical activity. It proposes different policy options to reach the recommended levels of physical activity globally, such as developing and implementing national guidelines for health-enhancing physical activity; integration of physical activity within other related policy sectors, and the use of mass media to raise awareness of the benefits of being physically active.

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