Solving the problem of global inactivity

Published by  Communications

On 10th Nov 2020

Smart businessman holding bicycle

From increasing physical activity in schools and workplaces to investing in active urban design – a researcher at the University of East Anglia has helped design a series of recommendations to help get people moving worldwide.

More than 1.4 billion adults globally do not achieve minimum recommended levels of physical activity, putting themselves at increased risk of health problems such as obesity, heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Not only does inactivity cost the global economy $USD 68 billion annually, but it is also responsible for millions of deaths.

Dr Karen Milton, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, has helped design a new set of recommendations to help people be more physically active – for the International Society for Physical Activity and Health (ISPAH), where she is president elect.

She said: “Many people may not realise that physical inactivity poses a similar population health threat as tobacco smoking.

“One in four adults and four in five adolescents worldwide are insufficiently active, accounting for more than five million deaths annually. It costs the global economy billions of dollars.

“But physical inactivity is a complex public health issue with multiple interacting influences –and there is no single solution.

“We wanted to create a guidance to help increase physical activity across settings, in schools, workplaces and healthcare, through inclusive sport and recreation for all, and investment in active transport systems and healthy built environments.

“The benefits of physical activity extend beyond health to wider  environmental benefits including reduced use of fossil fuels, reduced air pollution, and less congested and safer roads,” she added.

The ‘Eight Investments That Work for Physical Activity’ provides a concise roadmap for areas of action which are supported by scientific evidence.

The eight investments cover whole-of-school programmes, active transport, active urban design, healthcare, public education, sport and recreation for all, workplaces and community-wide programmes.

They complement the World Health Organization Global Action Plan for Physical Activity 2018-2030, assisting communities and countries looking to respond to the physical inactivity pandemic. 

Recommending investment and action around the world, the strategy calls on professionals, academics, civil society and decision makers to embed physical activity in national and subnational policies. 

Dr Milton is part of UEA’s Norwich Institute of Healthy Aging - a new research centre investigating how we can live longer, healthier, and more satisfying lives. 

She led the healthcare strand of the guidance, which looks at how doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals can influence our physical activity levels.

She said: “What’s critical about this investment is that we educate our future healthcare workforce on physical activity, not only on the many benefits, but on how to assess a patient’s physical activity level and provide advice on behaviour change.

“There are a range of tools and resources to support health professionals in doing this, but we need to disseminate these resources and skill-up the workforce in order to change practice.

“We have been trying to lead by example here at UEA by embedding physical activity into the medical curriculum as well as the curriculum of other health related courses including nursing, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

“In order to create change, we need to agree on what works and be clear in our messaging of this. This is what the Eight Investments is designed to do,” she added.

‘ISPAH’s Eight Investments That Work for Physical Activity’ by The International Society for Physical Activity and Health (ISPAH), is published online at https://www.ispah.org/resources/

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