Which country is the least sporty?

Move: The world is unsportsmanlike

Sitting at work, sitting in the subway, sitting in front of the television: More than 1.4 billion people, i.e. a quarter of the world's population, sit too much and move too little. This is shown by a large survey of scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) published today in the journal Lancet Global Health (Guthold et al, 2018) appears. While there have been major changes in individual countries, the proportion of unsportsmanlike people worldwide did not change between 2001 and 2016. The consequences of a lack of exercise are likely to be dramatic, because people who do not move very much develop cardiovascular diseases from heart attacks to strokes more often, are more likely to become overweight or develop type 2 diabetes and breast or colon cancer.

The research team led by Regina Guthold from the WHO evaluated 358 surveys over the past 15 years from 168 countries with a total of 1.9 million participants. The WHO guidelines were considered sufficient exercise: at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise (e.g. dancing, walking the dog or playing with children) or 75 minutes of intense exercise (e.g. jogging, team sports or fast cycling) per week.

Germany is doing poorly

There are significant differences in physical activity between different countries in the world. In this country around 42 percent of people move too little. This means that Germany is in a rather poor position worldwide; it is 15th among the most inactive countries. Similarly little exercise is done in the USA (40 percent inactive people) and Italy (41 percent). In France, on the other hand, over two thirds of the population were sufficiently active. Among the western countries, only New Zealand, Portugal and Cyprus fared worse than Germany.

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Elsewhere, too, there were large differences between high-income and low-income countries. The financially strong Kuwait is the country with the lowest percentage of active people: only 33 percent of the population exercise enough. In contrast, Uganda is the front runner in terms of physical activity, where 95 percent of the population is sufficiently active (see graphic).

The study is likely to be the first to measure physical activity over a longer period of time. The result: Worldwide, the proportion of physically active people has remained the same. However, several measurement points are not available from all the countries examined; from the group of low-income countries, for example, only from Benin. For the most part, however, reliable data are available for high-income countries. In Germany, for example, the number of people who exercise too little increased by more than 15 percent between 2001 and 2016 - one of the largest increases worldwide.

"Regions in which people are less and less physically active are a major problem for public health and the prevention of non-communicable diseases," says Regina Guthold, the lead author. By this she means above all diseases of civilization such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.

Women exercise less than men

In almost all of the countries examined, women exercise significantly less than men, which is not a completely new finding (Sports Medicine: Mielke et al., 2018). Previous studies explain the difference by the fact that women exercise less and with lower intensity than men, especially in their free time. This is especially true for countries in which traditional role models stand in the way of increased movement. "Opportunities must be created for women to be able to move safely, affordable and culturally acceptable," says Fiona Bull, co-author of the study.

The WHO wants to reduce physical inactivity worldwide by ten percent by 2025 - a goal that can hardly be met, say the authors. Regina Guthold's team therefore calls on politicians to encourage more physical activity among the population. In an action plan, for example, the WHO proposes improving bicycle infrastructures and improving the safety of pedestrians.