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HomeEditor's PickAlmost 40% of South Africans dangerously inactive — WHO study

Almost 40% of South Africans dangerously inactive — WHO study

LazyA quarter of the world’s adults are doing too little exercise, putting them at risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and some cancers – and there has been no improvement over the past 15 years. Health-e News reports that this is according to a global study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), that looked at exercise rates in 2016 and compared them to 2001.

In four countries, more than half of adults did not get enough exercise in 2016 – Kuwait (67%), American Samoa and Saudi Arabia (both 53%), and Iraq (52%). Kuwait and Samoa have some of the highest obesity rates in the world.

In contrast, Mozambicans and Ugandans were the most likely to get enough exercise, with only 6% reporting less than the recommended exercise of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity every week.

“In 2016, around one in three women (32%) and one in four men (23%) worldwide were not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity to stay healthy,” according to the study.

The report says the study, based on self-reported activity levels from 358 population-based surveys in 168 countries covering 1.9m participants, noted that there had been no improvement in exercise rates since 2001. “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,” said the study’s lead author, the WHO’s Dr Regina Guthold.

Women were less active than men in all regions of the world, apart from east and southeast Asia. There were large differences in activity between women and men in many countries, such as Bangladesh (40% vs 16%), India (44% vs 25%), Iraq (65% vs 40%), Philippines (49% vs 30%), South Africa (47% vs 29%), and the US (48% vs 32%).

The report says China has made the most progress in promoting physical activity, but in high income Western countries, there has been an increase of 5% in people doing insufficient activity. “Regions with increasing levels of insufficient physical activity are a major concern for public health and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” says Guthold.

Although a recent NCD policy survey showed that almost three quarters of countries report having a policy or action plan to tackle physical inactivity, few have been implemented to have national impact, according to the researchers.

The report says the study’s release comes ahead of the Third United Nations High Level Meeting on NCDs and their risk factors, including physical inactivity, being held on 27 September 2018 in New York.


The WHO recommends each adult do at least 150 minutes "moderate-intensity" exercise – such as brisk walking, swimming or gentle cycling – each week, or 75 minutes "vigorous-intensity" activity – such as running or team sports, reports The Times.

Researchers found there had been no improvement in physical activity levels since 2001, despite numerous public health initiatives extolling the benefits of exercise. More than a quarter of the world's adults (1.4bn people) were insufficiently active, according to the data. This includes 38.2% of all South Africans.

"We definitely haven't done enough" to encourage people to exercise, Guthold said.

Background: Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases, and has a negative effect on mental health and quality of life. We describe levels of insufficient physical activity across countries, and estimate global and regional trends.
Methods: We pooled data from population-based surveys reporting the prevalence of insufficient physical activity, which included physical activity at work, at home, for transport, and during leisure time (ie, not doing at least 150 min of moderate-intensity, or 75 min of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or any equivalent combination of the two). We used regression models to adjust survey data to a standard definition and age groups. We estimated time trends using multilevel mixed-effects modelling.
Findings: We included data from 358 surveys across 168 countries, including 1·9 million participants. Global age-standardised prevalence of insufficient physical activity was 27·5% (95% uncertainty interval 25·0–32·2) in 2016, with a difference between sexes of more than 8 percentage points (23·4%, 21·1–30·7, in men vs 31·7%, 28·6–39·0, in women). Between 2001, and 2016, levels of insufficient activity were stable (28·5%, 23·9–33·9, in 2001; change not significant). The highest levels in 2016, were in women in Latin America and the Caribbean (43·7%, 42·9–46·5), south Asia (43·0%, 29·6–74·9), and high-income Western countries (42·3%, 39·1–45·4), whereas the lowest levels were in men from Oceania (12·3%, 11·2–17·7), east and southeast Asia (17·6%, 15·7–23·9), and sub-Saharan Africa (17·9%, 15·1–20·5). Prevalence in 2016 was more than twice as high in high-income countries (36·8%, 35·0–38·0) as in low-income countries (16·2%, 14·2–17·9), and insufficient activity has increased in high-income countries over time (31·6%, 27·1–37·2, in 2001).
Interpretation: If current trends continue, the 2025 global physical activity target (a 10% relative reduction in insufficient physical activity) will not be met. Policies to increase population levels of physical activity need to be prioritised and scaled up urgently.

Regina Guthold, Gretchen A Stevens, Leanne M Riley, Fiona C Bull

[link url=""]Health-e News report[/link]
[link url=""]The Times report[/link]
[link url=""]The Lancet Global Health Journal article summary[/link]

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