Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health

Physical Inactivity: A Global Public Health Problem

Physical inactivity

Globally, around 31% of adults aged 15 and over were insufficiently active in 2008 (men 28% and women 34%). Approximately 3.2 million deaths each year are attributable to insufficient physical activity.

In 2008, prevalence of insufficient physical activity was highest in the WHO Region of the Americas and the Eastern Mediterranean Region. In both these regions, almost 50% of women were insufficiently active, while the prevalence for men was 40% in the Americas and 36% in Eastern Mediterranean. The South East Asian Region showed the lowest percentages (15% for men and 19% for women). In all WHO Regions, men were more active than women, with the biggest difference in prevalence between the two sexes in Eastern Mediterranean. This was also the case in nearly every country.

Reasons for physical inactivity

The current levels of physical inactivity are partly due to insufficient participation in physical activity during leisure time and an increase in sedentary behaviour during occupational and domestic activities. Likewise, an increase in the use of "passive" modes of transport has also been associated with declining physical activity levels.

Increased urbanization has resulted in several environmental factors which may discourage participation in physical activity such as:

  • violence
  • high-density traffic
  • low air quality, pollution
  • lack of parks, sidewalks and sports/recreation facilities.

Population-based, multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary, and culturally relevant policies need to be implemented to increase physical activity levels globally.

The WHO Member States in WHA 66.10 have agreed on a voluntary global NCD target for a reduction of 10% in physical inactivity by 2025.

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