Almost 500 million will develop serious disease due to physical inactivity

By June Shannon Policy News   |   20th Oct 2022

First ever global report on the cost of physical inactivity paints a stark picture

A new report from the Word Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that almost 500 million people will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes, or other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as a result of physical inactivity by 2030 if governments don’t take urgent action to encourage more physical activity among their populations.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are diseases that cannot be passed on between people and are long term chronic illnesses.

The Global status report on physical activity 2022, report found that nearly half or 47 per cent of all new NCDs would result from high blood pressure and 43 per cent would result from depression. Three-quarters of all cases would occur in lower and upper-middle-income countries. It revealed that the economic burden of physical inactivity was large with the new conditions costing just over USD 300 billion to treat if there is no change in the current levels of physical inactivity.

“As the world responds to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical and mental health, promoting physical activity can save lives, improve health and support stronger, more resilient health systems and communities,” the report stated.

Promoting physical activity can save lives, improve health and support stronger, more resilient health systems and communities

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According to the  global report, “81 per cent of adolescents and 27.6 per cent of adults currently do not meet the WHO’S recommended levels of physical activity and this affects not only individuals over their life span and also their families but health services and society as a whole.”

The report measures the extent to which governments are implementing recommendations to increase physical activity across all ages and abilities. Data from 194 countries revealed that overall, progress is slow and that countries need to accelerate the development and implementation of policies to increase levels of physical activity and thereby prevent disease and reduce the burden on already overwhelmed healthcare systems.

The report found that less than 50 per cent of countries had a national physical activity policy, of which less than 40 per cent were operational and only 30 per cent of countries had national physical activity guidelines for all age groups.

While nearly all countries report a system for monitoring physical activity in adults, 75 per cent of countries monitor physical activity among adolescents, and less than 30 per cent monitor physical activity in children under 5 years, the report found.

" We need more countries to scale up implementation of policies to support people to be more active through walking, cycling, sport, and other physical activity,"

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

According to the report, in policy areas that could encourage active and sustainable transport, only just over 40% of countries have road design standards that make walking and cycling safer.

“We need more countries to scale up implementation of policies to support people to be more active through walking, cycling, sport, and other physical activity. The benefits are huge, not only for the physical and mental health of individuals, but also for societies, environments, and economies…” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, “We hope countries and partners will use this report to build more active, healthier, and fairer societies for all.”.

Considered a “best buy” for motivating populations to combat NCDs, the report showed that only just over 50% of countries ran a national communications campaign, or organised mass participation physical activity events in the last two years. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only stalled these initiatives, but it also affected other policy implementation which has widened inequities in access to and, opportunities for, engaging in physical activity for many communities.

To help countries increase physical activity, WHO’s Global action plan on physical activity 2018-2030 (GAPPA) sets out 20 policy recommendations – including policies to create safer roads to encourage more active transport, provide more programmes and opportunities for physical activity in key settings, such as childcare, schools, primary health care and the workplace.

“ We need to do more to connect with as many communities as we can in engaging in physical activity."

Martin Ryan, Health Promotion Officer , The Irish Heart Foundation

The report calls for countries to prioritise physical activity as key to improving health and tackling NCDs, integrate physical activity into all relevant policies, and develop tools, guidance and training to improve implementation.

“It is good for public health and makes economic sense to promote more physical activity for everyone,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director Department of Health Promotion, WHO.

“We need to facilitate inclusive programmes for physical activity for all and ensure people have easier access to them.  This report issues a clear call to all countries for stronger and accelerated action by all relevant stakeholders working better together to achieve the global target of a 15 per cent reduction in the prevalence of physical inactivity by 2030.”

Commenting on the global report Martin Ryan, Health Promotion Officer with the Irish Heart Foundation said, it highlighted how people in Ireland similar to those in other countries across the globe are not getting enough physical activity.

“We need to do more to connect with as many communities as we can in engaging in physical activity. The reports also signals the need for increased government action on policies that promote physical activity.”

For more information on ways to increase your level of physical activity please see here 

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diabetes heart disease hypertension physical activity physical inactivity WHO World Health Organisation

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