An estimated 500 million people may develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) attributable to physical inactivity between 2020 and 2030, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated.
WHO attributed the heightened health challenge to apparent lack of infrastructure, such as good roads, access to parks, cycle lanes, and footpaths, in some countries. It said treatment and management of the resultant disease scourge was expected to gulp huge sums of money annually, if governments around the world failed to take urgent action to encourage more physical activity among their populations.
WHO said the economic burden of physical inactivity was significant, adding, “The cost of treating new cases of preventable non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will reach nearly $300 billion by 2030, around $27 billion annually.”
These were contained in WHO’s first-ever global report, which highlighted high cost of physical inactivity across the globe.
In the global status report on physical activity 2022, published yesterday by WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, it revealed measures and the extent to which governments were implementing recommendations to increase physical activity across all ages and abilities.
According to WHO, data from 194 countries show that, overall, progress is slow and countries need to accelerate the development and implementation of policies to increase levels of physical activity and thereby prevent disease and reduce burden on already overwhelmed health care systems.
It said, “Less than 50 per cent of countries have a national physical activity policy, of which less than 40 per cent are operational. Only 30 per cent of countries have national physical activity guidelines for all age groups.”
WHO noted that while nearly all countries report a system for monitoring physical activity in adults, 75 per cent of countries monitor physical activity among adolescents, and less than 30 per cent monitor physical activity in children under five years
In policy areas that could encourage active and sustainable transport, it said only over 40 per cent of countries have road design standards that make walking and cycling safer.
WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said, “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.
“We hope countries and partners will use this report to build more active, healthier, and fairer societies for all.”
WHO further observed that while national policies to tackle NCDs and physical inactivity had increased in recent years, currently, 28 per cent of policies were reported to be not funded or implemented.
It added that COVID-19 pandemic had not only stalled these initiatives, but also affected other policy implementation, which had widened inequities in access to and, opportunities for, engaging in physical activity for many communities.
In order to help countries increase physical activity, WHO said its global action plan on physical activity 2018-2030 (GAPPA) had set out 20 policy recommendations – “including policies to create safer roads to encourage more active transport, provide more programmes and opportunities for physical activity in key settings, such as childcare, schools, primary health care and the workplace.
“Today’s Global Status report assesses country progress against those recommendations, and shows that much more needs to be done.”
The apex world health body said a critical finding in the global status report on physical activity was 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.
The report also urged countries to address weaknesses in some existing data.
“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,” Head of WHO Physical Activity Unit, Fiona Bull said.
Director Department of Health Promotion at WHO, Dr. Ruediger Krech, said, “It is good for public health and makes economic sense to promote more physical activity for everyone
“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 per cent reduction in the prevalence of physical inactivity by 2030.”