Physical inactivity is a global pandemic and the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality


The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, accounting for 6% of deaths globally. A more recent analysis of the worldwide burden of disease further estimated that physical inactivity was responsible for 6% of the incidence of coronary heart disease, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer, and 10% of colon cancer. The study went on to conclude that if physical inactivity decreased by 25% then more than 1.3 million deaths could be averted every year.

According to the CDC childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, with both immediate and long term effects on health and well being:

Immediate health effects:

  • Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
  • Obese adolescents are more likely to have pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk of the development of diabetes.
  • Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk of bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatisation and poor self-esteem.

Long-term health effects:

  • Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk of many associated adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis 6.  One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults.
  • Overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk of contracting many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Although evidence for the benefits of physical activity for health has been available since the 1950s, available data suggest that 31% of the world's population is not meeting the minimum recommendations for physical activity, and in 2009, the global prevalence of inactivity was 17%.

In view of the prevalence, global reach, and health effects of physical inactivity, the issue should be appropriately described as pandemic, with far-reaching health, economic, environmental, and social consequences. There are however several approaches which have demonstrated at least acceptable effectiveness in boosting physical activity across different age groupss, social groups, and countries worldwide.

As a result, both governments and the relevant professional bodies recommend that health professionals take a more active role in encouraging patients to lead healthier lifestyles, including offering advice on smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and physical activity / exercise at every patient contact.


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