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Global Crisis of Physical Inactivity: Nearly 1.8 Billion Adults at Risk of Disease, Warns WHO

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Geneva, 5 July 2024 — In a stark warning from the World Health Organization (WHO), new data reveal that nearly one-third of adults globally, approximately 1.8 billion people, failed to meet recommended levels of physical activity in 2022. This alarming statistic marks a significant increase in physical inactivity, rising from 26% in 2010 to 31% in 2022, highlighting a worsening global health crisis.

The study, conducted in collaboration with academic researchers and published in The Lancet Global Health journal, underscores the widespread prevalence of a sedentary lifestyle and its dire consequences. The WHO recommends adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. Insufficient physical activity is linked to a higher risk of severe health conditions, including cardiovascular diseases (such as heart attacks and strokes), type 2 diabetes, dementia, and cancers like breast and colon cancer.

“If this trend continues unchecked, the rate of physical inactivity could rise to 35% by 2030, further derailing global health goals,” stated Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “We must urgently renew our commitment to promoting physical activity, prioritizing strong policies and increasing funding to reverse this troubling trend.”

Regional Disparities and Vulnerable Groups

The report lays bare significant regional disparities in physical activity levels. The highest rates of inactivity were recorded in high-income Asia Pacific regions (48%) and South Asia (45%), with other regions ranging from 28% in high-income Western countries to as low as 14% in Oceania. Furthermore, the data reveal noteworthy gender and age disparities: 34% of women are inactive compared to 29% of men, with some countries exhibiting a gender gap as wide as 20 percentage points. Additionally, individuals over 60 years old are notably less active than younger adults, emphasizing the need for targeted interventions for older populations.

“Physical inactivity is a silent threat to global health, significantly contributing to the burden of chronic diseases,” said Dr. Rüdiger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO. “To tackle this issue, we must innovate in motivating people to become more active, taking into account factors like age, environment, and cultural background. By making physical activity accessible, affordable, and enjoyable, we can drastically reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases and foster a healthier, more productive population.”

Signs of Hope and the Path Forward

While the overall picture is concerning, there are glimmers of progress. Nearly half of the countries analyzed have shown improvements in physical activity levels over the past decade. Moreover, 22 countries are on track to meet the global target of reducing inactivity by 15% by 2030 if current trends persist.

In response to these findings, the WHO is urging countries to intensify efforts in policy implementation to encourage and facilitate physical activity. Suggested measures include promoting grassroots and community sports, active recreation, and transport options like walking, cycling, and the use of public transport.

“Promoting physical activity transcends individual lifestyle choices; it demands a whole-of-society approach,” affirmed Dr. Fiona Bull, Head of the WHO Unit for Physical Activity. “Creating environments that make physical activity easier and safer will help ensure everyone can enjoy its numerous health benefits.”

To address this growing crisis, collective efforts from governments, nongovernmental organizations, and community stakeholders are vital. Enhanced investments in innovative strategies are necessary to reach the least active individuals and reduce access inequalities.

The WHO’s urgent call to action aims to reverse the rising tide of physical inactivity by fostering a global environment conducive to active, healthy living. Achieving this requires a concerted effort that spans policy reform, community engagement, and individual commitment to embrace a more active lifestyle for the benefit of global public health.

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