Very little progress has been made in reducing levels of inactivity worldwide, experts have warned
A WHO report estimates that more than a quarter of people worldwide – 1.4 billion – are not doing enough physical exercise, a figure that has barely improved since 2001.
Inactivity raises the risk of a raft of health problems, such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers. High-income countries, including the UK, were among the least active.
And women were found to be more sedentary throughout the world, with the exception of two regions of Asia. Researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) looked at self-reported data on activity from 358 population-based surveys in 168 countries, including 1.9 million people, for their study in The Lancet Public Health.
They found in high-income countries, which include the UK and the USA, the proportion of inactive people had risen from 32% in 2001 to 37% in 2016, while in low-income countries it had remained stable at 16%.
Those who were classed as inactive did less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise – or 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity – a week. Countries driving the upwards trend included Germany, New Zealand and the US.
Women were less active than men in all but East and South-East Asia, with the biggest differences being in South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, north Africa and high-income Western countries.
The authors said this was likely to have been caused by a combination of factors, including extra childcare duties and cultural attitudes that made it harder for them to exercise.
In the UK, inactivity levels in 2016 were 36% overall – 32% of men and 40% of women. Experts said the transition in wealthier countries towards more sedentary jobs and hobbies, along with increased use of motor transport, might explain their higher levels of inactivity.