The Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group is calling for physical inactivity to become a global health priority according to the July 2012 paper, ‘The pandemic of physical activity: global action for public health’.

In the paper, physical inactivity is described as pandemic, with far-reaching health, economic, environmental and social consequences. It is currently the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide.

The Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group says: “Important global progress has been made in organisation and mobilisation of efforts for tobacco and alcohol control and promotion of a healthy diet. Physical inactivity has begun to be recognised as the fourth type of exposure that needs to be addressed for control of non-communicable diseases.

“Despite robust research on how to address physical inactivity, there has been an evidence-policy gap for action. As a relative newcomer to the area, physical activity has yet to garner equal global organisation and advocacy power to receive the appropriate political recognition and investments.”

The paper suggests this lack of recognition has put physical inactivity in “reverse gear” compared with population trends and advances in addressing tobacco and alcohol.

“This unacceptable situation needs to be addressed with haste if the world is to reach its goals for control of non-communicable diseases.”

The paper argues that reversing the impact of physical inactivity requires greater attention by policy-makers around the world to recognise it as a standalone, public health priority.

Yet the Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group acknowledges that there are challenges in addressing the issue.

Partnership between several specialist disciplines – including epidemiology, sport, behaviour and environmental health science – is essential to tacking the issue.

It also highlights that changing attitudes will be key. The role of physical activity continues to be undervalued despite evidence of the economic and social burden posed by present levels of physical inactivity globally.

The Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group argues the pandemic requires a focus that looks beyond a reliance on behavioural science, to a coordinated movement by individual, social and cultural, environmental, and policy-makers, particularly in low-to-middle income countries.

Specifically, the paper calls for action from target groups to champion the advancement of global health though specific activity. This includes:
  • Strong global leadership and standardised targets from the United Nations and the World Health Organisation;
  • Support and coordination efforts by the World Bank and international development agencies;
  • Sufficient allocation of resources from individual countries; and
  • Focused partnerships at government level by health, education, sport, planning and transport ministries.

The full report, The pandemic of physical activity: global action for public health, including key actions is available for download here.