WHO: People at risk of obesity, diabetes, if physical activity not encouraged

Inaction could cost the world RM127.4b a year if govts fail to take urgent action 

A NEW World Health Organisation (WHO) report on Oct 19 warned that almost half a billion people could develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) attributable to physical inactivity between 2020 and 2030. 

According to the Anadolu Agency which cited the WHO report, inaction could cost the world US$27 billion (RM127.44 billion) a year if governments fail to take urgent action. 

The global status report on physical activity 2022 measures how much governments are implementing recommendations to increase physical activity across the board, and it said they are falling short. 

“We need more countries to scale up implementation of policies to support people to be more active through walking, cycling, sports and other physical activities,” said WHO DG Tedros Ghebreyesus. 

“The benefits are huge, not only for the physical and mental health of individuals, but also for societies, environments and economies.” 

According to the report, the Covid-19 pandemic revealed the importance of regular physical activities for mental and physical health. 

It also points to inequities in access and opportunities for some communities to be physically active. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that physical activities must be a core component of public policy, with all countries ensuring equitable physical activity opportunities for all,” said the report.

Data from 194 countries show that overall, progress is slow and that governments must accelerate policies on increasing physical activity levels to prevent disease and reduce the burden on already overwhelmed healthcare systems. 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. 

“We are missing globally approved indicators to measure access to parks, cycle lanes, footpaths — even though we know that data exist in some countries,” Anadolu Agency also reported Fiona Bull, head of the WHO’s Physical Activity Unit, told a United Nations (UN) press conference. 

“Consequently, we cannot report or track the global provision of infrastructure that will facilitate increases in physical activities.” 

She said that could be a vicious circle, as no indicator and no data lead to no tracking and no accountability, and then too often, to no policy and no investment. 

While nearly all countries report a system for monitoring physical activity in adults, 75% of countries monitor physical activity among adolescents, and less than 30% monitor physical activity in children under five. 

In policy areas that could encourage active and sustainable transport, only about 40% of countries have road design standards that make walking and cycling safer. 

The economic burden of physical inactivity is significant, and the cost of treating new cases of preventable NCDs will reach nearly US$300 billion by 2030, around US$27 billion annually, said the report. 

While national policies to tackle NCDs and physical inactivity have increased in recent years, 28% are reported as not funded or implemented. 

The report calls for countries to prioritise physical activity as key to improving health and tackling NCDs; integrate physical activity into all relevant policies; and develop tools, guidance and training to improve implementation. — Bernama / pic AFP

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition