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More than one-third of Singaporeans aren’t getting enough physical activity

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Despite the well established health benefits of physical activity, more than a quarter of adults globally (27.5%), or roughly 1.4 billion people, were insufficiently physically active in 2016.

According to a World Health Organisation-led study published in The Lancet Global Health journal, this represents only a marginal decrease from 2001 where 28·5% of adults globally are insufficiently physically active. In Singapore, 36·5% don’t get enough physical activity.

The study looked at 358 population-based surveys done between 2001 and 2016, with 1·9 million participants from 168 countries, representing 96% of the world’s population. Of the 358 surveys analysed, 301 were nationally representative, and 150 of 168 countries had at least one national survey. 65 of 168 countries had at least two surveys using the same questionnaire and survey coverage, revealing trends over time.

Of these 65 countries, the study found 37 with increasing levels of insufficient activity, whereas levels were decreasing in 28.

Countries with the largest increases (>15%) include Singapore, the Philippines, Brazil, Bulgaria, and Germany. On the flip side, the largest decreases (>15%) have occurred in Cook Islands, Jordan, Tokelau, Samoa, Myanmar, Solomon Islands, and Tonga.

The study also found varying levels of inactivity across regions.

In Oceania, 16·3% had insufficient physical activity, while 39·1% were inactive in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Between 2001 and 2016, the prevalence of physical inactivity increased by more than 5 percentage points in high-income Western countries (from 30·9% in 2001, to 36·8% in 2016) and in Latin America and Caribbean (from 33·4% in 2001, to 39·1% in 2016), whereas east and southeast Asia had a decrease of more than 5 percentage points (from 25·7% in 2001, to 17·3% in 2016).

The data also revealed that those high-income countries were more inactive than those in low-income countries. The prevalence increased over time in high-income countries, from 31·6% in 2001, to 36·8% in 2016, whereas it was stable in low-income countries, at 16·0% in 2001, and 16·2% in 2016.

By gender, women were less active than men. In 2016, the prevalence of inactivity was 31·7% for women while only 23·4% of men were found to be inactive.

Across all regions, with the exception of east and southeast Asia, women were less active than men in 2016. There was a difference between sexes of more than 10 percentage points in central Asia, Middle East and north Africa; high-income Western countries; and south Asia.

Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, and high-income Western countries were the least physically active (>40% of women with insufficient physical activity), while men in high-income Asia Pacific, high-income Western countries, and Latin America and the Caribbean were the most inactive (>30% of men with insufficient physical activity).

The study concluded that progress towards the global target set by WHO member states to reduce physical inactivity by 10% by 2025 has been too slow and is not on track. In line with that, it recommended countries to significantly increase in national action to scale-up implementation of effective policies.

In this study, physical activity, included physical activity at work, at home, for transport, and during leisure time (ie, not doing at least 150 min of moderate-intensity, or 75 min of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or any equivalent combination of the two).

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