New Delhi: About half of women and a quarter of men in India are not doing sufficient physical activity, which makes them vulnerable to various non-communicable diseases (NCDs), a study published in the Lancet Global Health Journal revealed.

The first study to estimate global physical activity trends over time, undertaken by researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO), said approximately 44% women and 25% men in India were insufficiently active through 2016, which put them at greater risk of NCDs like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and certain types of cancer. The study is based on self-reported activity levels, including activity at work and at home, for transport, and during leisure time, in adults aged 18 years and older from 358 population-based surveys across 168 countries, comprising 1.9 million participants.

Indicating a clear gender gap, the study highlighted a health equity issue where women face more environmental, social and cultural barriers to participate in physical activity, particularly in their leisure time.

Interestingly, women were less active than men in all regions of the world, apart from the East and Southeast Asia. In 2016, the difference in levels of insufficient activity between women and men, respectively, stood at around 10 percentage points or more in three regions: South Asia (43% vs 24%), Central Asia, Middle East and north Africa (40% vs 26%), and high-income Western countries (42% vs 31%), according to the study. Across regions, many individual countries recorded large differences in insufficient activity, including Bangladesh (40% vs 16%), Eritrea (31% vs 14%), India (44% vs 25%), Iraq (65% vs 40%), Philippines (49% vs 30%), South Africa (47% vs 29%), Turkey (39% vs 22%), the US (48% vs 32%), and the UK (40% vs 32%).

“Addressing these inequalities in physical activity levels between men and women will be critical to achieving global activity targets and will require interventions to promote and improve women’s access to opportunities that are safe, affordable and culturally acceptable," said Fiona Bull from WHO, Geneva, co-author of the study.

The study also said that there has been no improvement in global levels of physical activity since 2001. Worldwide, around one in three women and one in four men do not do enough physical activity to stay healthy. Levels of insufficient physical activity are more than twice as high in high-income countries compared to low-income countries, and increased by 5% in high-income countries between 2001 and 2016. The highest rates of insufficient activity in 2016 were found in adults in Kuwait, American Samoa, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, where more than half of all adults were insufficiently active.

“Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health," said lead author, Regina Guthold of WHO.

Although high-income countries have a higher prevalence of insufficient physical activity, low- and middle-income countries still bear the larger share of the global disease burden of physical inactivity.

“While declines in occupational and domestic physical activity are inevitable, it is essential to incentivize transport and leisure-time physical activity in emerging economies through improving public and active transportation infrastructure, promoting social norms for physical activity through mass sports and school-level participation, and implementing sustainable programmes at scale that could yield economic, environmental, and social co-benefits while promoting physical activity," said Melody Ding from the University of Sydney.

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