Health Care

WHO: 500M at risk without more physical activity 

Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP
The logo and building of the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, 15 April 2020.

Nearly 500 million people worldwide will develop diseases due to physical inactivity between 2020 and 2030, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Unless action is taken to address the issue, half a billion people will develop heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other noncommunicable diseases during that period, the United Nations health agency concludes in its first-ever global status report on physical activity, published Wednesday. 

Looking at data from 194 countries, the WHO estimates that treating new cases of those diseases will cost the global community $27 billion annually for a total of $300 billion by 2030.  

“More than one in four adults and more than 80% of adolescents do not meet WHO’s recommended levels of physical activity for optimum health. … Widespread physical inactivity is also a major economic burden to national health systems, and to the economy worldwide,” the report reads.

The report underscores that the problem is preventable if governments take action to support physical activity.  

“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 WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. 

Fewer than half of countries have a national policy on physical activity, and less than 40 percent of existing policies are actually in operation, according to the report.  

The COVID-19 pandemic, which hampered physical activity with lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in its early days, has also inhibited the progress of physical activity policies and initiatives, according to the report.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that physical activity must be a core component of public policy, with all countries ensuring provision of equitable physical activity opportunities for all,” it reads.

The WHO’s global action plan on physical activity (GAPPA), set forth in 2018, includes 20 policy recommendations to help governments tackle the noncommunicable disease crisis by fostering active societies, environments and systems within their nations. 

Mindsets and societal norms on physical activity need to be changed, GAPPA asserts, and such shifts can be achieved through national communication campaigns and mass-participation events.

The plan also recommends expanding physical activity opportunities with initiatives that promote walking, cycling and other activity in childcare settings, in the workplace and in schools, among other spaces.

While many nations monitor adult physical activity, few monitor physical activity in children, according to the new report. Just 30 percent of countries have guidelines for physical activity across all age groups, it notes.  

Many countries are also critically lacking in road designs and sustainable transport systems that make physical activities like walking and cycling safer, per the report.

It asserts that upping road design standards, implementing safety strategies and legislating speed limits, distracted driving and public open spaces can enable environments for physical activity — and national guidelines, policies and targets for such activity can establish frameworks for addressing the issue through 2030.

Tags diabetes heart disease obesity Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus United Nations WHO World Health Organization World Health Organization

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