WHO’s first-ever global report emphasises high cost of physical inactivity

Brief Overview of the Report:

On 19th October 2022, WHO published “Global status report on physical activity 2022” after gathering data from 194 countries which indicates that almost 500 million people will suffer from heart diseases, obesity, diabetes or other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). 

The above diseases are ascribable to physical inactivity, between 2020 and 2030, costing US$ 27 billion annually, if governments don’t take acute action to encourage more physical activity among their populations.

WHO recommends to every government of the countries to accelerate the development and implementation policies to increase levels of physical activity and thereby prevent disease and reduce burden on already overwhelmed health care systems.

Out of 194 countries, less than 50% of countries have a national physical activity policy, of which less than 40% are operational.

  • Only 30% of countries have national physical activity guidelines for all age groups.
  • While nearly all countries report a system for monitoring adult physical activity, 75% of countries monitor adolescent physical activity, and less than 30% monitor physical activity in children under the age of five.
  • Only slightly more than 40% of countries have road design standards that make walking and cycling safer, which could encourage active and sustainable transportation.

“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 Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, “We hope countries and partners will use this report to build more active, healthier, and fairer societies for all.” 

The economic cost of physical inactivity is significant, with the cost of treating new cases of preventable noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) reaching nearly US$ 300 billion by 2030, or approximately US$ 27 billion per year. 

While national policies to combat NCDs and physical inactivity have grown in recent years, 28% of policies are currently not funded or implemented. The report found that only slightly more than half of countries ran a national communications campaign or organised mass participation physical activity events in the last two years, despite being considered a “best buy” for motivating populations to combat NCDs. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only stalled these initiatives, but it has also hampered other policy implementation, resulting in greater disparities in access to and opportunities for physical activity for many communities.

WHO’s Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030 (GAPPA) outlines 20 policy recommendations to assist countries in increasing physical activity, including policies to create safer roads to encourage more active transportation and to provide more programmes and opportunities for physical activity in key settings such as childcare, schools, primary health care, and the workplace. The Global Status report released today assesses country progress against those recommendations and demonstrates that much more needs to be done. The existence of significant gaps in global data to track progress on important policy actions such as provision of public open space, provision of walking and cycling infrastructure, provision of sport and physical education in schools is one critical finding in the Global Status Report on Physical Activity.

“We are missing globally approved indicators to measure access to parks, cycle lanes, foot paths – even though we know that data do exist in some countries. Consequently, we cannot report or track the global provision of infrastructure that will facilitate increases in physical activity, “said Fiona Bull, Head of WHO Physical Activity Unit.  “It can be a vicious circle, no indicator and no data leads to no tracking and no accountability, and then too often, to no policy and no investment. What gets measured gets done, and we have some way to go to comprehensively and robustly track national actions on physical activity.”

The report urges countries to prioritise physical activity as a key component of improving health and combating NCDs, to incorporate physical activity into all relevant policies, and to develop tools, guidance, and training to improve implementation.

“It is good for public health and makes economic sense to promote more physical activity for everyone,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director Department of Health Promotion, WHO. “We need to facilitate inclusive programmes for physical activity for all and ensure people have easier access to them.  This report issues a clear call to all countries for stronger and accelerated action by all relevant stakeholders working better together to achieve the global target of a 15% reduction in the prevalence of physical inactivity by 2030.”

Data for the report are drawn from the WHO Noncommunicable Disease Country Capacity Survey (2019 and 2022) and the WHO Global status report on road safety (2018).

The cost of inaction on physical inactivity to healthcare systems manuscript at Preprints with The Lancet (peer-reviewed version forthcoming in The Lancet Global Health)

Download Report:

Download WHO’s Global Status Report on Physical Activity 2022

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