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Physical inactivity a leading cause of disease and disability, warns WHO

Physical inactivity can have serious implications for people’s health, said the World Health Organization today on the occasion of World Health Day. Approximately 2 million deaths per year are attributed to physical inactivity, prompting WHO to issue a warning that a sedentary lifestyle could very well be among the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world. World Health Day is celebrated annually on April 7 and used to inform the public about leading public health issues. By choosing physical activity as the theme for World Health Day, WHO is promoting healthy, active and tobacco-free lifestyles. The aim is to prevent the disease and disability caused by unhealthy and sedentary living.

Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression and anxiety. According to WHO, 60 to 85% of people in the world—from both developed and developing countries—lead sedentary lifestyles, making it one of the more serious yet insufficiently addressed public health problems of our time. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of children are also insufficiently active, with serious implications for their future health.

Physical inactivity, along increasing tobacco use and poor diet and nutrition, are increasingly becoming part of today’s lifestyle leading to the rapid rise of diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, or obesity. Chronic diseases caused by these risk factors are now the leading causes of death in every part of world except sub-Saharan Africa, where infectious diseases such as AIDS are still the leading problem. These chronic diseases are, for the most part, entirely preventable. Countries and people could save precious lives and health care resources by investing in preventing these diseases, says WHO.

"The habit of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a nutritious diet ideally begins in childhood and we hope that parents and schools everywhere will use this day to spread this message," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO’s Director-General. "We should all be ready to move for health and to adopt healthy and active lifestyles. World Health Day 2002 is a call to action to individuals, families, communities governments and policy-makers to move for health," she added.

Among the preventive measures recommended by WHO are moderate physical activity for up to 30 minutes every day, tobacco cessation, and healthy nutrition. In addition to individual lifestyle changes, governments and policy makers are also recommended to "move for health" by creating a supportive environment for people. Among the measures recommended: implementing transportation policies that make it safer for people to walk and ride bicycles; legislating tobacco-free public buildings and spaces; building accessible parks, playgrounds and community centres; and promoting physical activity programmes in schools, communities and health services.

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For more information contact:

Reshma Prakash
Telephone: (+41 22) 791 3443
Fax: (+41 22) 791 4832
E-mail: prakashr@who.int