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Worldwide trends in insufficient physical activity from 2001-2016

By 13 November 2020No Comments
Regina Guthold et al.
Published: 4th September, 2018


This Lancet article examines levels of insufficient physical activity across countries, estimating global and regional trends. The research is motivated by the understanding that insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases and has a negative effect on mental health and overall quality of life. By pooling together large sets of data from population-based surveys across countries, the report assesses whether current trends will meet the 2025 global physical activity target set by WHO.


The survey was designed to estimate the prevalence of insufficient physical activity in adults aged 18 years and older across 168 countries, nine regions, and globally for 2001-2016. Insufficient activity is defined as not meeting the WHO recommendations of 150-min moderate-intensity or 75-min of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. Data was pooled from 358 population-based surveys, including 1.9 million participants. Regression models were used to adjust survey data to a standard definition and age group. Time trends were measured using multilevel mixed-effects modelling.

Key Findings

In 2016, more than a quarter (27.5%) of all adults across the globe were not getting enough physical activity. Prevalence of insufficient physical activity varied greatly across regions and income groups, with the highest levels in Latin America and the Caribbean, high-income Western countries, and high-income Asia Pacific. Prevalence was more than double in high-income countries than in low-income countries. The study confirms findings of lower activity in women than men (difference of 8 percentage points), with the biggest differences in south and central Asia and the Middle East and north Africa.


This report reveals that, if the current trend continues, the WHO 2025 global physical activity target (a 10% relative reduction in insufficient physical activity) will not be met. The trends identified in Scotland are consistent with those in the report, belonging to the category of a high-income Western country with high levels of insufficient physical activity, and an existing gender gap with lower activity in women. Like in many other countries, significant national action is needed in Scotland to scale-up implementation of effective policies to reverse this trend. It is important to remember that increasing physical activity provides a number of benefits in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, including to health, local economies, community wellbeing, and environmental sustainability, making it a priority.