Home / News / India /  Over 80% adolescents globally lack sufficient physical activity: WHO

More than 80% of school-going adolescents globally don’t meet recommendations of at least one hour of physical activity per day, said a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday.

Among 85% of girls and 78% of boys across the globe, the study said, the levels of insufficient physical activity continue to be extremely high, compromising their current and future health. According to the study, published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, some of the lowest levels of insufficient activity in boys were found in Bangladesh, India and the USA.

The authors note that the lower levels of insufficient physical activity in Bangladesh and India (where 63% and 72% of boys were insufficiently active in 2016, respectively) may be explained by the strong focus on national sports like cricket.

However, the USA rates (64%) may be driven by good physical education in schools, pervasive media coverage of sports, and good availability of sports clubs (such as ice hockey, American football, basketball, or baseball). For girls, the lowest levels of insufficient activity were seen in Bangladesh and India, and are potentially explained by societal factors, such as increased domestic chores in the home for girls.

“Insufficient activity among adolescents is a major concern. The trend of girls being less active than boys is concerning. More opportunities to meet the needs and interests of girls are needed to attract and sustain their participation in physical activity through adolescence and into adulthood," said study co-author Leanne Riley, WHO.

To increase physical activity for young people, governments need to identify and address the many causes and inequities – social, economic, cultural, technological, and environmental – that can perpetuate the differences between boys and girls, the authors said.

The study – which is based on data reported by 1.6 million 11 to 17-year-old students – finds that across all 146 countries studied between 2001-2016 girls were less active than boys in all but four (Tonga, Samoa, Afghanistan and Zambia).

The authors called for comprehensive action requires engagement with multiple sectors and stakeholders, including schools, families, sport and recreation providers, urban planners, and city and community leaders.

“The study highlights that young people have the right to play and should be provided with the opportunities to realize their right to physical and mental health and wellbeing. Strong political will and action can address the fact that four in every five adolescents do not experience the enjoyment and social, physical, and mental health benefits of regular physical activity. Policy makers and stakeholders should be encouraged to act now for the health of this and future young generations," said co-author Fiona Bull, WHO.

“Countries must develop or update their policies and allocate the necessary resources to increase physical activity. Policies should increase all forms of physical activity, including through physical education that develops physical literacy, more sports, active play and recreation opportunities – as well as providing safe environments so young people can walk and cycle independently," said Bull.

According to WHO, the health benefits of a physically active lifestyle during adolescence include improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone and cardiometabolic health, and positive effects on weight. There is also growing evidence that physical activity has a positive impact on cognitive development and socializing. Current evidence suggests that many of these benefits continue into adulthood.

To achieve these benefits, the WHO recommends for adolescents to do moderate or vigorous physical activity for an hour or more each day. The authors estimated how many 11- to 17-year-olds do not meet this recommendation by analysing data collected through school-based surveys on physical activity levels.

The assessment included all types of physical activity, such as time spent in active play, recreation and sports, active domestic chores, walking and cycling or other types of active transportation, physical education and planned exercise.

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