Physical inactivity


294 Vol 380 July 21, 2012

Lancet 2012; 380: 294–305

Published Online July 18, 2012 S0140-6736(12)60898-8

This is the fi fth in a Series of fi ve papers about physical activity

*Members listed at end of paper

University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston School of Public Health, and University

of Texas at Austin Department of Kinesiology and Health

Education, Austin, TX, USA (Prof H W Kohl 3rd PhD);

Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, Ottawa, ON,

Canada, and School of Public Health, University of Sydney,

Sydney, NSW, Australia (C L Craig MSc); UCT/MRC

Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine,

Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences,

University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

(Prof E V Lambert PhD); Tokyo Medical University, Department

of Preventive Medicine and

Physical Activity 5

The pandemic of physical inactivity: global action for public health Harold W Kohl 3rd, Cora Lynn Craig, Estelle Victoria Lambert, Shigeru Inoue, Jasem Ramadan Alkandari, Grit Leetongin, Sonja Kahlmeier, for the Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group*

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. We summarise present global eff orts to counteract this problem and point the way forward to address the pandemic of physical inactivity. Although evidence for the benefi ts of physical activity for health has been available since the 1950s, promotion to improve the health of populations has lagged in relation to the available evidence and has only recently developed an identifi able infrastructure, including eff orts in planning, policy, leadership and advocacy, workforce training and development, and monitoring and surveillance. The reasons for this late start are myriad, multifactorial, and complex. This infrastructure should continue to be formed, intersectoral approaches are essential to advance, and advocacy remains a key pillar. Although there is a need to build global capacity based on the present foundations, a systems approach that focuses on populations and the complex interactions among the correlates of physical inactivity, rather than solely a behavioural science approach focusing on individuals, is the way forward to increase physical activity worldwide.

The pandemic of physical inactivity should be a public health priority Theoretically, prioritisation for public health action is informed largely by three factors: the prevalence and trends of a health disorder; the magnitude of the risk associated with exposure to that disorder; and evidence for eff ective prevention and control. A practice or behaviour that is clearly related to a health disorder, is prevalent, and is static or increasing in its prevalence should be a primary target for public health policy for disease prevention and health promotion. Too often, however, the inertia of tradition, pressure from special interest groups, media attention, and other external forces can overcome this approach.

Available data suggest that 31% of the world’s popu- lation is not meeting the minimum recommendations for physical activity1 and, in 2009, the global prevalence of inactivity was 17%.2 Despite promising positive trends in leisure-time (discretionary) physical activity in some countries, incidental, transportation-related, and occu- pational physical activity prevalences are falling.3–6 The global challenge of physical inactivity is further amplifi ed by the risk it conveys. Lee and colleagues7 presented persuasive evidence that 6–10% of all deaths from non- communicable diseases worldwide can be attributed to physical inactivity, and this percentage is even higher for specifi c diseases (eg, 30% for ischaemic heart disease).8 In 2007, 5·3–5·7 million deaths globally from non- communicable diseases could have theoretically been prevented if people who were inactive had instead been suffi ciently active. Most of these eff ects of physical inactivity are not mediated through body composition. Finally, several approaches have acceptable eff ectiveness for increasing physical activity across diff erent ages, social groups, and countries worldwide.9 In view of the prevalence, global reach, and health eff ect of physical inactivity, the issue should be appropriately described as pandemic, with far-reaching health, economic, environ- mental, and social consequences.

Moreover, the associated morbidity of health disorders related to inactivity, including health-related quality of life as well as direct and indirect economic costs, exerts a substantial burden on societies and health systems. For example, annual direct health-care costs range from US$28·4 to $334·4 per head in Australia,10 UK,11 and Switzerland12 and, including indirect costs, from $154·7 to $418·9 per head in Canada13 and the USA.14 The magnitude of economic implications of physical inactivity is diffi cult to compare at present, and a more in-depth global analysis is needed.

Key messages

• The high prevalence of physical inactivity, its harmful health and environmental consequences, and the evidence of eff ective physical activity promotion strategies, make this problem a global public health priority

• Physical activity and public health is a new discipline, merging several areas of specialisation including epidemiology, exercise and sport science, behaviour science, and environmental health science, among others; these diff erent areas are needed to tackle the global pandemic of physical inactivity because multidisciplinary work is essential

• Early development of the discipline has been largely opportunistic and, as a result, physical activity has usually been coupled with other public health agendas and is often not a fully recognised, standalone, public health priority

• Capacity building, workforce training, and intersectoral approaches are needed in all regions for physical activity research, practice, policy, and advocacy and education

• A systems approach to physical activity beyond a reliance on behavioural science needs coordinated changes at the individual, social and cultural, environmental, and policy levels; building of intersectoral action is particularly needed in countries with low-to-middle incomes, where the unintended consequences of development might negatively aff ect transport-related, household, and occupational physical activity

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Public Health, Tokyo, Japan (Prof S Inoue MD); Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, The Health Sciences Center—Kuwait University, Kuwait City, Kuwait (J R Alkandari PhD); National Health Security Offi ce, Bangkok, Thailand (G Leetongin MD); and Physical Activity and Health Unit, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland (S Kahlmeier PhD)

Correspondence to: Dr Harold W Kohl 3rd, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston—School of Public Health, Austin Regional Campus, Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living, Austin, TX 78701, USA

Social and economic transitions that aff ect popula- tions can have a profound eff ect on health and health behaviour. For example, the rapid economic development and drastic social changes in many Latin American countries in recent years have been mirrored by a rapid trend away from undernutrition and micronutrient defi ciencies to overnutrition and obesity, along with an ageing population and an increase in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases.15 That physical activity is also related to development is particularly evident and of concern in low-income and middle-income countries, where occupational, domestic, and transport-related physical activities might contribute more to overall energy expenditure than does leisure time or recreational activity.16 Moreover, in the fourth paper in this Series, Pratt and colleagues17 presented compelling models showing the potential eff ect of developing global information and communications technologies on physical activity.

Increasing urbanisation and rapid economic devel- opment in China have been linked to reductions in overall and occupational physical activity in adults16,18 as well as increased television viewing in children.19 Simi- larly, in Africa, rural-to-urban migration is associated with reductions in prevalence of physical activity.20,21 In some cases, the urban-to-rural gradient for inactivity more than doubles. The challenge is magnifi ed in view of the fact that, in 20 years, 60% of west Africans will live in urban areas and two-thirds of people moving into urban areas in Africa do so into poverty. Such large shifts in physical activity demand scrutiny with a public health lens to assess the population-level causes, rather than a solely clinical view, to understand the causes of inactivity among individuals.22

Important global progress has been made in organ- isation and mobilisation of eff orts for tobacco and alcohol control23,24 and promotion of a healthy diet.25,26 Physical inactivity has begun to be recognised as the fourth type of exposure that needs to be addressed for control of non- communicable diseases.27 However, and despite robust research on how to address physical inactivity,9 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 eff ect of this tardiness has been to put physical activity in reverse gear compared with population trends and advances in tobacco and alcohol control and diet. This unacceptable situation needs to be addressed with haste if the world is to reach its goals for control of non- communicable diseases.27 In the next sections, we summarise existing global physical activity eff orts and emphasise challenges that point the way forward to address the global pandemic of physical inactivity. We argue that lasting progress needs to be built on early eff orts, but that a full systems approach should be taken to fully integrate physical activity into public health.

Advancement of physical activity and public health: building on existing progress Overview Physical activity promotion to improve the health of populations, rather than individual behaviours, has only had an identifi able infrastructure since 2000. The reasons for this late start are myriad and complex. First, there is a perception, albeit incorrect, that the science base for physical activity and health has lagged behind other important issues such as tobacco use and diet. Second, as a result of a grafting of exercise science to public health science, the specialty of physical activity and public health has its roots in several areas. Exercise science, epidemiology, behavioural science, environmental health science, and others have each contributed to the emergence of the discipline of physical activity and public health and the absence of centralisation has resulted in diff use and uncoordinated development. As such, early action in training and growth of infrastructure has often been opportunistic rather than systematic. Finally, physical activity has frequently been coupled with diet28,29 to address obesity, rather than defi ned as a standalone public health issue, despite evidence for many independent health eff ects of physical activity and physical inactivity.30 Such opportunistic approaches by coupling or integration with other health determinants might have merit for the physical activity policy agenda for some health outcomes, but they unavoidably restrict the scope of action and impede a full approach to address all aspects of physical activity and inactivity. Further, such partnering for convenience should not to be confused with building of equally footed partnerships for action.

What resources and strategies are needed to move physical activity and public health to the mainstream?31 To harness the science for public health action, creative thinking coupled with development of partnerships for action are needed to help physical activity to become a public health priority. Global capacity building in physical activity is crucial. A systematic approach to capacity building involves an assessment of existing capacity and resources, planning and target setting, intersectoral collaboration built on a strong foundation of leadership and advocacy, workforce development in teaching, research and practice, and monitoring of progress. Global capacity building should be advanced by evolving and expanding existing assets. Figure 1 shows a timeline of major international benchmarks as the specialty has emerged in four broad areas. For each area, progress is detailed to provide direction for further development of global capacity.

Policy and planning Two major global eff orts have occurred since 2000 in policy and planning. First, in 2004, the World Health Assembly adopted the WHO global strategy on diet, physical activity, and health28 and WHO subsequently published implementation aids in support of the


296 Vol 380 July 21, 2012

strategy.42–44 Second, a UN high-level meeting on non- communicable diseases was convened in September, 2011,32 specifi cally to address prevention and control eff orts of diseases that claimed 63% of global deaths in 2008. At the UN meeting, physical inactivity was identifi ed as an important determinant of non-communicable diseases globally, but received less emphasis than tobacco, alcohol, and diet. These two eff orts are obviously important in their contexts and have certainly been seminal in raising international awareness of the issues of physical inactivity. However, the absence of focus specifi cally on inactivity in these two initiatives in favour of coupling with diet serves to weaken eff orts for broad, focused approaches to tackle physical inactivity. For example, the fi rst version of the currently proposed global monitoring framework for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases45 did not contain a target or indicators for physical inactivity, although such indicators were present for tobacco, diet, and alcohol. Targets and indicators for physical inactivity were subsequently included in the second draft version of the document only after substantial advocacy eff orts by many interested parties including the global and regional networks. If physical activity is not retained, the four factors that are meant to support non-communicable disease prevention (physical activity, tobacco control, diet, and alcohol) will be eff ectively reduced unacceptably to only three. Member states will then not have a mandate for action to address physical activity as a matter of public health urgency.

Another topic for consideration is that physical activity promotion is not only important for the prevention of

non-communicable diseases, but it might also play a key part in eff orts against global warming through the pro- motion of active transportation, improvement of social relationships, reduction of social inequities, and stimu- lation of the use of public spaces. Global eff orts in the policy and planning area urgently need to place health promotion, in this case through physical activity practice, as much more than a risk factor for non-communicable diseases, but actually a basic human right.

One crucial approach to build capacity and infra- structure in physical activity and public health is the development and implementation of national policies and action plans.46 A recent WHO report suggests47 that, although 73% of member states reported having an identifi able plan, strategy, or policy to address physical inactivity, only 55% of these plans, strategies, or policies were reported to be operational. Further, only 42% were operational as well as funded. Sub stantial global variation exists, with reported plans, strategies, or policies less prevalent (46%) in the African WHO region, but uni- versal (100%) in the southeast Asia WHO region. There was also a substantial diff erence between income groups, with 82% of countries with upper-middle incomes reporting plans relative to 68% of those with lower- middle incomes. These data provide the fi rst global overview, but validation of these self-reported data is needed because items could have been interpreted and reported diff erently by diff erent countries.

What constitutes good policy for physical activity promotion? The mere existence of a national physical activity policy or action plan does not secure its func- tionality or implementation. Plans are not imple men- tation, implementation is not strategy, and strategies are not evidence of population change. Nor does the existence of a national policy necessarily produce success. Ideally, national policies and action plans are designed not for implementation solely by governments, but rather for mobilisation of both governmental and non-governmental collaboration towards advancement of physical activity and reduction of physical inactivity. The recent Brazilian experience is one from which many such lessons can be learned.48 Similar action is needed worldwide.

A policy audit tool was developed49 on the basis of a literature review of previous work on cross-country comparisons on physical activity policy,46,50–53 identifying a set of 17 key attributes identifi ed as essential for successful implementation of a population-wide ap- proach to promote physical activity across the lifecourse. These attributes include an evidence-based, consultative approach and integration across sectors and policies, national recommendations on physical activity levels, national goals and targets, an implementation plan including several strategies and evaluation based on a national surveillance system. Successful implementation also depends on political commitment and sustainable funding, leadership and coordination, working in part- ner ship, a network supporting professionals as well as

Figure 1: Emergence of global infrastructure for physical activity and public health WHO DPAS=WHO global strategy on diet, physical activity and health.28 UN NCD=UN high-level meeting on non-communicable disease.32 HEPA=Health Enhancing Physical Activity.33 RAFA/PANA=Red Actividad Fisica de las Americas/Physical Activity Network of the Americas.34 AP-PAN=Asia Pacifi c Physical Activity Network.35 GAPA=Global Advocacy for Physical Activity.36 AFRO-PAN=Africa Physical Activity Network.37 CDC/IUHPE=Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/International Union for Health Promotion and Education. JPAH=Journal of Physical Activity and Health.38 ISPAH=International Society for Physical Activity and Health.39 IPAQ=international physical activity questionnaire.40 GPAQ=global physical activity questionnaire.41

Policy and planning

WHO DPAS (2004)

UN NCD (2011)

HEPA Europe (2005)Leadership and advocacy

RAFA/PANA (2000)

Agita Mundo (2002)

AP-PAN (2005)

GAPA (2007)

AFRO – PAN (2010)

Professional development and training CDC/IUHPE (2004)

JPAH (2004)

ISPAH (2009)


IPAQ (2001)

1995 2000 2005 2010

GPAQ (2005)

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ensuring links between policy and practice, and a communication strategy and a clear programme brand- ing. The policy audit tool can act as a catalyst for increased communication and joint strategic planning by identi fying synergies and discrepancies among policy areas (appendix).

Leadership and advocacy The tardy emergence of physical activity and public health as a distinct discipline can partly be attributed to disparate leadership and the fact that, to date, physical activity has not been fi rmly rooted in public health. As shown in fi gure 1, regional networks have been the foundation in this area. The fi rst regional network in the world was Red Actividad Fisica de las Americas (Physical Activity Network of the Americas; RAFA/PANA).34 RAFA/PANA seeks to harness substantial resources and interest in physical activity from Canada to Chile. RAFA/PANA was followed by similar eff orts to coalesce several interests in Europe,33 Asia-Pacifi c,35 and most recently Africa.37 A global physical activity network initiative, Agita Mundo,54 has evolved simultaneously from early beginnings in Brazil.55

These networks all have the common goal to provide a platform for exchange of experiences, to strengthen existing initiatives, and to identify and disseminate good practice. Other goals include advocacy, dissemination of knowledge, workforce training, and the development of national networks or research collaborations. The described poor support for physical activity is also illustrated by the fact that none of these networks receives sustainable institutional support of any kind, so they all depend almost entirely on voluntary contributions of central steering bodies and member institutions. Despite scarce resources, the networks represent mem bers from more than half the countries in each region and have produced tangible results and products. For example, through the leadership of the RAFA/PANA network, nine national networks have been formed (Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay, El Salvador, Venezuela) and, together with Agita Mundo, mass events are organised regularly, which engage millions of partici- pants in physical activity. The European network has established working groups on national approaches, youth and elderly people, and settings such as health care, sport clubs, and working environments and on surveillance and injury prevention, which collect and analyse approaches and case studies and develop guidelines and practical tools for imple mentation. The Asia-Pacifi c network delivers a biweekly newsletter to more than 4000 readers, which has both an advocacy and scientifi c communication function. The most recently formed African network produces a quarterly newsletter, and provides a platform for regional collaborative research and advocacy in various African countries. Early evaluation eff orts for the regional and global networks need to be formalised and expanded.

Regional networks help to support communication and common interest events. Active promotion to advance a

cause needs advocacy. Encouragingly, formal advocacy eff orts have more recently emerged in the fi eld. In 2007, Global Advocacy on Physical Activity36 (GAPA) was launched. GAPA works to strengthen advocacy, dissem- ination, and capacity around physical activity promotion and policy.

While these eff orts proceed, additional approaches are needed to build global capacity in physical activity and public health. Although physical activity has to further establish itself as fully recognised standalone specialty on an equal footing with those of diet, tobacco control, and others, working across diff erent silos and estab- lishing partnerships for action specifi c to physical activity could be the most important advance to be made. For example, many non-governmental organisations have long been involved in sport promotion; however, only recently have networks of these organisations involved in Sports for All and Sports for Development identifi ed health as a key outcome objective, particularly in countries with low and middle incomes.56–58 The Health in All Policies approach59 has emerged to integrate health concerns into policy decisions taken in other sectors. This approach needs increased health system capacity to engage other sectors eff ectively in adopting policies that maximise possible health gains. Success not only needs eff ective advocacy skills, but, more importantly, the ability to identify mutually benefi cial actions that allow the target sectors to achieve their own goals while protecting and promoting health.

A successful example of this approach is an inter national project that was coordinated by WHO. The project developed guidance and practical tools for economic assessments of the health eff ects of cycling and walking.60–62 The products were developed through a systematic review of relevant research followed by a comprehensive con- sensus building process61 involving experts specifi cally selected to represent an inter disciplinary range of profes- sional backgrounds and expertise (health and epidemiology, health and transport economics, a practice or advocacy perspective, policy development and implementation). The project pro duced aids that were transparent and easy to use. Health economic assessment tools for cycling have already been adopted by several countries for their offi cial toolbox for economic assessment of cycling infrastructure and are applicable in countries with high, middle, and low incomes.62,63 These projects show that use of economic arguments to advocate investments into policies that have clear sector-specifi c benefi ts is a promising strategy to win the support of these sectors and could have great potential to result in health benefi ts.

Training and professional development Despite seemingly incomplete development of a global physical activity and public health infrastructure, some coordinated workforce training eff orts have emerged. Although certifi cation programmes for exercise pro- fessionals have existed for many years,64,65 the emphasis

See Online for appendix


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on population health has only been recent. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the International Union for Health Promotion and Education have been drivers of international training eff orts, to educate public health professionals regarding the fundamentals of physical activity, its role in public health, and eff ective strategies for successful physical activity promotion.9 Up to mid-2012, 25 of these international courses have been held in most WHO regions with more than 1400 participants.

In 2004, a professional journal, the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, was launched to help to build scientifi c evidence on physical activity and health38 and the International Society for Physical Activity and Health was organised in 2009 to provide international leadership in the advancement of physical activity for health.39 The crucial need to move physical activity into the public health mainstream involves leadership from these inter- national organisations to further emphasise professional development of practitioners and academic training of researchers and teachers. This need is especially strong in countries with low and middle incomes facing a wave

of economic and social changes that will probably reduce the physical activity demands of daily life.

This training should focus (among other things) on planning, intersectoral collaboration (including sport, health, transportation, and other key areas), imple- mentation of evidence-based physical activity strategies and how to increase demand for access to safe places for physical activity. Social mobilisation is a crucial aspect of this training and has been successfully used in Brazil.36 Public health should lead this eff ort, but other disciplines such as medicine, physical therapy, nutrition, education, psychology and behavioural science, and urban planning and design need to affi liate. Although the needed numbers of practitioners in this area is unknown, it is certainly more than are presently working. If practi- tioners in each of these areas were reoriented to make physical activity a priority in their work, the workforce addressing these needs would be greatly expanded.

Beyond the existing practitioner workforce, academic training should be oriented for preparation of the future generations at all levels. Graduate training specialisations in physical activity and public health should emerge and with them a broad range of core competencies that set a minimum standard of knowledge. The development of the Physical Activity and Public Health Specialist certifi cation by the US National Society for Practitioners of Physical Activity and Public Health66 and the American College of Sports Medicine is a major step forward. Competencies for this certifi cation (and associated sets of knowledge, skills, and abilities) have been developed in six crucial areas: partnership development; use of data and scientifi c information; planning and evaluation; inter- vention; organisational structure; and exercise science in public health. This model can probably be adapted and implemented in other countries.

Formal academic training programmes and graduate training should also be created to guide the next gen- eration of researchers in this area. Global capacity in exercise science, physical education, physical therapy, public health, architecture and planning, and envir- onmental health should not only be increased, but be oriented towards integration and comprehensive approaches to physical activity and public health.

Finally, more research into eff ective programmes that increase physical activity and reduce physical inactivity, particularly in countries with low and middle incomes, is needed to help to further build the evidence base for their national policies and action plans.42 To expedite this process, journals could ideally consider adopting editorial policies to support and perhaps even fast-track articles on inter- ventions in low-income and middle-income countries.

Monitoring and surveillance Physical activity and public health was advanced sub- stantially by the development and implementation of standardised surveillance tools for physical activity. The

Panel 1: Physical activity surveillance: if it is important, it must be measured

Comprehensive surveillance systems are crucial to advance physical activity and public health. The development and introduction of such a comprehensive system poses challenges and is dependent on the capacities and resources available. Yet having such physical activity information will serve to improve investment of scarce resources, increase accountability, and help to make effi cient and eff ective investments. Canada’s experience provides one example of how comprehensive physical activity surveillance can be implemented. In the mid-1990s, a needs assessment was done with scholars, representatives of federal and provincial or territorial (state) governments, and national-level non-governmental organisations. Key indicators were identifi ed at the individual, social, and physical environment levels across schools, workplaces, and municipalities (land-use, transportation, recreation systems). Results have been used for advocacy, setting targets, tracking of progress (related to capacity, policies, programmes, and services), shaping of policy and strategies, market segmentation, and evaluation of health education campaigns. Canada’s system evolved over time to include many data sources including objective as well as self-report measures. Data sources have included regular specifi c population-based and setting-based (eg, schools, workplaces, municipalities) surveys, supplemented by population health surveys and transportation surveys. As data became available, its value in guiding policy and practice was recognised and demand for data increased. Therefore, it was important to have a long-term vision for surveillance and to implement components of the system as capacity and commitment to measurement grew. As new measures were included, existing measures were retained at least on a periodic basis. Otherwise, if methods or questions or measures had changed, trends over time could not have been assessed.

Other countries can learn from these lessons by creating their own vision of what population and sector-related data would be needed to assess changes in the conditions that aff ect physical activity in their country and what policies and interventions they might adopt to increase physical activity and decrease sedentary behaviour. A core set of indicators could then be identifi ed within this framework and measured over time as commitment to surveillance strengthens. The key to implementation of a policy-relevant system is to begin with a comprehensive vision of what data are needed to inform policy and practice and then to implement the various elements of that system as feasible.

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international physical activity questionnaire40 and the global physical activity questionnaire41 have provided ways for specifi c countries on a regional and global scale to gather data for the prevalence of people meeting physical activity recommendations, the prevalence of physical inactivity, and (for the global questionnaire) domain- specifi c behaviour estimates. However, as dis cussed in the fi rst paper of this Series,1 persistent gaps are noted in physical activity surveillance including the scarcity of continuous surveillance systems implemented at the national level (resulting in an absence of trend data), any data in a third of countries, and standardised data for active transportation, sedentary behaviours, and school physical education class attendance among indicators.

Optimum physical activity surveillance focuses on levels and behaviours, their determinants and outcomes, and indicators of proven and promising solutions to address low physical activity in various segments of the population. As such, the focus is not the traditional epidemiological disease-case fi nding approach to sur- veillance, but rather the monitoring of trends in people’s physical activity behaviour and assessment of progress in changing the underlying determinants that aff ect physical activity. Physical activity surveillance should provide information for policies and interventions that reside in many sectors (health, education, recreation, transportation, land-use planning, etc).

Health-related measures focus on meeting physical activity recommendations and domain-specifi c meas- ures—for example, walking and bicycling for transport, occupational physical activity, attendance of physical education classes at school, physical demands of chores, and participation in physically active recreation and sport. To inform the many levels and sectors needed for intervention, ecological frameworks67 spanning deter- minants and correlates at the individual, social, physical environment, and societal levels are needed to organise the vast array of factors aff ecting physical activity. Assessment of only individual physical activity is not enough to inform policy and planning. Panel 1 describes Canada’s experience with comprehensive physical ac- tivity surveillance.

Beyond behavioural science to public health The key question is why progress in physical activity promotion as a public health issue has been less developed than that in other public health areas? The pandemic of inactivity spans the world and economic development and social transitions portend a likely increase in the prevalence of inactivity and the incidence of non-communicable diseases for years to come, par- ticularly in countries with low and middle incomes. The response to physical inactivity has been incomplete, unfocused, and most certainly understaff ed and under- funded, particularly compared with other risk factors for non-communicable diseases. The relative infancy of the specialty and absence of infrastructure might be part of

the reason for slow progress. Noticeably under-repre- sented has been leadership by global, regional, and national health-focused foundations with the means to advance this issue. Further, international leadership provided by the US Centers for Disease Control in physical activity and public health is now on the wane.

A major part of the answer could also lie in the initial approaches to solving the issue. Instead of a population- based public health emphasis, eff orts have focused on individual health. A foundation of public health is the realisation that health and illness have causes that go beyond biology and behaviour.68 For physical activity, a strong case can be made that the science of how to change individual behaviours has overshadowed eff orts to understand true population change. Because of this unbalanced focus, the structural and systemic changes necessary to promote physical activity in populations (with commensurate changes in prevalence) across various sectors have not yet been addressed system- atically. Although much has been learned about how individuals can change their physical activity behaviour and the determinants of those behaviours,69 little pro- gress in population-level changes has been documented. A similar experience occurred in global tobacco control, where initially the burden of responsibility was put solely

Figure 2: Behavioural and environmental (A) and systems (B) approaches to physical inactivity A shows a traditional behavioural or environmental intervention strategy for physical inactivity. Various behavioural theories or environmental models are applied to address individual predisposing factors, an intervention is developed and delivered, and behaviour change (increased physical activity) is expected. B shows a complex systems perspective for physical activity, whereby there is an acknowledgment of issues, such as delay functions, adaptation, unintended consequences, competing interests, and feedback that could negatively aff ect an approach to increase physical activity. Various characteristics might also accelerate or inhibit the speed of the eff ectiveness of the strategies.

Behaviour change theory

Behaviour change theory

Behaviour changePhysical inactivity

Behaviour change

Strategies for implementation

Physical inactivity

Behavioural intervention

Policy or environmental change Environmental intervention



Policy or environmental change



Competing actions


Delay Accelerants

Unintended consequences

Education Sport and recreation

Health Workplace

Planning Transportation

Built environment


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on individuals. Once that view expanded to include recognition of societal responsibility as well, population- level action and changes in smoking prevalence followed. Physical activity has to learn from these examples.

Only recently has research and promotion regarding the environmental eff ects that impede or support individual-level physical activity begun to blossom.70,71 These eff orts defi ne, measure, and interpret the funda- mental aspects of the physical environment in which an individual or sets of individuals live, work, and recreate and how these aspects aff ect physical activity. However, changing the focus of action on environmental infl u- ences would only shift the attention from one type of strategy (behavioural) to another (environmental) with- out full consideration of how individuals behave in given environments and how changes in the environments can aff ect changes in physical activity patterns.

For true change in the global action on physical activity, we have to embrace the complexity of the entire

system in conceiving solutions rather than focusing only on parts of the puzzle such as an individual or an environ mental approach alone.72 A systems approach (fi gure 2) acknowledges the complex non-linearity of health behaviours, including the many interactions, delays in adoption, adaptations, competing actions, and unin tended consequences that can occur within a system. A systems approach acknowledges such com- plexities and allows for planning to counteract the unintended consequences.

A key feature of such complex systems is that many inputs and levels of infl uence are considered to be interdependent. An attempt is made to understand the pathway towards a specifi c health behaviour and not only the simple, univariable or linear determinants at an individual or environmental level. Rather, systems ap proaches identify enablers, accelerants, synergies, and interconnectedness of multiple infl uences and thus have the highest potential to aff ect population physical activity.

As a hypothetical example, a behavioural programme to increase school-based physical activity during phys- ical education could be very successful; however, an unin tended consequence might be that physical activity elsewhere during a day for those children could decrease. Similarly, a transportation policy designed to reduce automobile congestion, improve air quality, and increase access and social equity in a population by increasing eff ective mass transportation options could result in increased incidental and transportation-related physical activity behaviours for one segment of that population, but could actually reduce transportation- related physical activity for other segments, resulting in a net zero gain. Improvements in the mass transit system might not immediately result in adoption (and increased transport-related physical activity) by the target population (delay). Adaptations could occur such that once the novelty of the new transport system wears off , adopters could return to their usual methods of (sedentary) trans portation. Specifi c accelerants and inhibitors (subsidised rider fares, for example) could interact with these and other infl uences and ultimately aff ect physical activity associated with transportation choice. Traditional linear health behaviour models and theories are not designed to take these kinds of inter- actions into consideration. Such work is in its infancy, but wide-scale diff usion of such approaches would accelerate the eff ect of physical activity and public health eff orts throughout the world.

Multiple levels of infl uence in physical activity behav iour is clearly one key aspect of a complex system. As discussed by Bauman and colleagues69 in the second paper in this Series, there is a vast array of determinants of physical activity behaviour initiation, maintenance, and relapse. Public and organisational policy, the phys ical environment, the family and social environment, occupation, individual self-effi cacy, and genetics among others have all been

Panel 2: Call to action: guiding principles

The freedom and opportunity for individuals to participate in physical activity should be viewed as a basic human right. To improve global health by increasing population levels of physical activity, we urge all organisations from the governmental (including national, regional, and local), non-governmental, and private sectors to take action in developing and supporting eff ective physical activity promotion strategies that embrace a systems approach and adhere to the guiding principles of the Toronto Charter, including: • Adopt evidence-based strategies that target the whole

population as well as specifi c vulnerable subgroups • Address the environmental, social, and individual

determinants of physical inactivity • In addressing determinants of physical activity behaviour,

embrace an equity approach to reduce the disparity in access to opportunities for physical activity

• Implement sustainable actions in partnership at national, regional, and local levels and across many sectors to achieve greatest eff ect

• Build capacity and support training in research, practice, policy, evaluation, and surveillance

• Use a lifecourse approach by addressing the needs of children, families, adults, elderly people, and people with disabilities as well as specifi c settings such as worksites and schools

• Advocate to decision makers and the general community for an increase in political commitment to and resources for physical activity

• Ensure tailoring to cultural sensitivities and adapt strategies to accommodate varying local realities, cultures, contexts, and resources

• Allow healthy personal choices by making the physically active choice the easy choice

Series Vol 380 July 21, 2012 301

studied with respect to their relation to physical activity. Each of these types of determinants probably has diff erent mechanisms of action in diverse sectors. Moreover, the methods of each area diff er and are quite possibly distinct in their approaches of study. It is important to study these infl uencers in relation to understanding of the system in which they operate. Moreover, the relative contributions of the determinants could change and become less or more prominent as systems change.

Additionally, physical activity is not solely a health sector responsibility, nor should it be. City and com- munity planners, transportation engineers, school au th- orities, recreation and parks offi cials, private employ ers and the media, along with health-care workers and public health practitioners all are instrumental in promoting (or inhibiting) population levels of physical activity. Each of these stakeholders has diff erent motiv- ations and goals, interactions with other infl uencers,

Specifi cally, we urge the UN and WHO to: • Provide strong global leadership in promoting a systems

approach to the development, implementation, and monitoring of national physical activity policies, strategies, and action plans

• Ensure targets and indicators for monitoring physical activity, physical inactivity, and sedentary behaviour are adopted and maintained as an integral part of global eff orts aimed at prevention and control of non-communicable diseases

• Partner with others, including other UN organisations, to continue to provide and expand professional training on the fundamentals of physical activity, its role in public health, and public policy and eff ective strategies for action

We urge the World Bank, international development agencies, foundations, and other international agencies to: • Support the work of, and coordination among, global

and regional networks for physical activity promotion, particularly those consisting mainly of countries with low-to-middle incomes, to engage in regional planning, translation of research, exchange of experience, and expertise, and implement regional and national action plans

• Recognise the key role that physical activity has in the prevention of non-communicable diseases and in enhancing the health of populations, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries

• Support the development and implementation of national plans to promote physical activity, particularly in countries with low-to-middle incomes

We urge countries to: • Develop and implement multisectoral strategies and action

plans focused specifi cally on physical activity that are framed within a systems approach

• Assign a clear stewardship role for physical activity to a relevant government body to form a multisectoral infrastructure building on existing structures

• Adopt evidence-based national recommendations and policy guidance on physical activity for health and quantifi ed population targets

• Allocate suffi cient sustainable resources for implementation, as well as evaluation and comprehensive surveillance for accountability

We urge ministries of health to: • Reorient services and funding at national, regional, and local

levels to prioritise physical activity as a standalone area of work

• Foster partnerships including through cross-governmental implementation at all levels and gain input and engagement from all stakeholders that form a broad multisectoral constituency both within and outside government

• Make physical activity an integral part of an overall disease prevention and health promotion model, including screening for physical inactivity, counselling about physical activity in prevention and disease treatment and management strategies as well as increased investment in comprehensive physical activity promotion policies, action plans, and implementation programmes

We urge ministries of education and other education authorities to: • Implement policies that support high-quality, compulsory

physical education • Promote and implement policies that encourage and

support active travel to school • Provide opportunities for physical activity during and after

the school day as well as healthy school environments

We urge ministries of sport and other recreation sector authorities to: • Develop and implement sport and recreation policy and

funding systems that prioritise increased community access to aff ordable physical activity opportunities

• Develop programmes adapted to the needs of particular segments of the community that are less active than others

We urge ministries of planning to: • Support and implement urban and rural planning policies,

design guidelines and building codes that support walking, cycling, public transport, sport, and recreation with a particular focus on equitable access and safety

We urge ministries of transport to: • Prioritise transport policies and services that promote active

forms of non-motorised transport, with an emphasis on equitable access and safety

• Fund infrastructure support for walking, cycling, and public transit

(Continues on next page)

Panel 3: Call to action: key actions necessary to advance global health through physical activity


302 Vol 380 July 21, 2012

and measures of success and priorities. If systems are not changed in a more coordinated manner, any successful programme of one single stakeholder could be off set by unexpected consequences to another stake- holder or by equal and opposite eff ects of diff erent programmes. Complete understanding of all stake- holders, their interactions, and how their interactions make up the whole is crucial to understanding of the systems that impede progress on physical activity. Such a task again will necessitate coordination, communi- cation, and partnership devel opment across the myriad of stakeholders who can aff ect change.

Many previous public health solutions have been the primary responsibility of the health sector (eg, tobacco control, infection control), but meaningful progress was only made possible when inputs from several areas were taken into account. Physical inactivity is an issue that crosses many sectors and has to be addressed as such. Although the health sector, from counselling of indi- vidual patients in a medical care setting, all the way to community-based programmes for physical activity promotion, can and should play a major part, other sectors are equally, if not more, important in the systems dynamics of physical activity and public health.

Thus, many parties (governments, international organ- isations, the private sector, and civil society) need to contribute complementary actions in a coordinated approach. Priority actions include policies to improve the built environments, cross-cutting actions (such as leadership, healthy public policies, and monitoring), and much greater funding for prevention programmes. Increased investment in population monitoring systems would improve the accuracy of forecasts and evaluations. Based on a strong independent identity and increased evidence base, the integration of actions within existing systems into both health and non-health sectors can

greatly increase the eff ect and sustainability of policies. Such a consideration has been recently off ered for the prevention of obesity73 and should be considered as a model to guide future work to promote physical activity globally. A systems approach might also include physical activity within a non-communicable disease programme or obesity prevention agenda (which might be very important for countries with low and middle incomes), or other opportunistic means to leverage action. Al- though an important launching point, actions should always be conceptualised within a larger systems approach so that additional opportunities can be identifi ed and harmoniously implemented.

Finally, there is a heterogeneity of infl uences that is acknowledged in systems thinking. Given the same family environment, the same physical environment, and other physical activity determinants, why are some people very active, others intermittently active, and still others inactive? Clearly, diff erent determinants exist and they manifest diff erently, resulting in a variable, incomplete, and unsatisfactory model to predict physical activity. This variability in infl uence, coupled with the multiple levels of infl uence and the multiple stake- holders, argues strongly that public health eff orts for physical activity promotion cannot be expected to increase the prevalence of health-enhancing physical activity throughout the world without a complete sys- tems approach. Behavioural science and environmental science have contributed to our understanding and defi nition of the issue at the individual level. By its very nature, systems thinking needs transcendence of traditional silos and boundaries to address large-scale issues. If public health is to be improved by population shifts in physical activity prevalence, those changes have to be aff ected by a change in thinking to embrace a systems approach. Although diffi cult to implement and

(Continued from previous page)

We urge employers, the private sector, and media to: • Develop and implement programmes, facilities, and

incentives that encourage and support employees and their families to be physically active

• Orient marketing, advertising, and promotional messages to encourage physical activity and discourage physical inactivity and sedentary behaviours

• Collaborate with government and non-governmental organisations in the creation and promotion of opportunities to promote and engage in physical activity

We urge academics and academia to: • Undertake research to further clarify the open questions on

physical activity and health, in particular on eff ective promotion strategies in all life settings and complete systems approaches

• Invest in translation of research into practice

• Create graduate training programmes that integrate and take a comprehensive approach to physical activity and public health

• Further build the evidence base for eff ective programmes, national plans, and on cost-eff ectiveness, particularly in countries with low and middle incomes

Finally, we urge individuals and organisations in civil society to: • Advocate to decision makers and the general community

for an increase in political commitment and resources to increase population levels of physical activity

• Commit to and implement plans for the development and capacity building of the physical activity and public health infrastructure that is commensurate with the magnitude, reach, and eff ect of the issue

• Seek ways to become and remain physically active at levels recommended for the preservation and promotion of health and wellbeing

Series Vol 380 July 21, 2012 303

communicate, such an approach is necessary to address physical activity as a public health issue.

Call to action As part of the International Society for Physical Activity and Health, GAPA36 works to strengthen advocacy, dis- sem in ation, and capacity around physical activity promo- tion and policy. GAPA was instrumental in developing the 2009 Toronto Charter, a ten-point action plan for global promotion of physical activity74 and resource materials to guide action.75 The Charter has been trans- lated into 17 languages with seven more forthcoming. Such products are intended to guide national agendas, to strengthen advocacy, and to incorporate lessons learned from other risk factor success stories, in particular from tobacco control.76 In this call to action, we urge widespread adoption of the principles outlined in panel 2, which are based on and expanded from the Toronto Charter, and key actions detailed in panel 3.

Conclusions Physical inactivity is pandemic, a leading cause of death in the world, and clearly one of the top four pillars of a non- communicable disease strategy. However, the role of physical activity continues to be undervalued despite evidence of its protective eff ects and the cost burden posed by present levels of physical inactivity globally. There is an urgent need to build global capacity. Although progress has been made in policy and planning, leadership and advocacy, workforce training, and surveillance, much needs to be done to fully address this global issue. Advancement of global capacity needs intersectoral collaboration, improved understanding of what works, particularly in countries with low and middle incomes, comprehensive monitoring to assess progress in im ple- mentation of policies and action plans, and momentum in development of a highly skilled workforce in physical activity and public health. New partners, an expanded leadership base, resources at the country and local level, and expanded infrastructure are crucially needed to advance physical activity as a public health issue. Further- more, a systems-based approach is needed to address the complex interactions between the various conditions that promote or impede population levels of physical activity. Understanding and application of complex systems to aff ect physical activity will allow infrastructure changes that will give individuals and populations the freedom to be more physically active and healthy.

This Series in The Lancet is a crucial step for physical activity and public health. The physical activity research community, governments, and civil society, among others, can take advantage of the summary of knowledge presented in this report to drive action for physical activity. But our share of responsibility does not end with pub lication of the Series. Setting of goals and meas- urement of progress is crucial if the specialty is to continue to grow and evolve. As a tangible means to move

forward, the Lancet Physical Activity Observatory is being launched (panel 4). Contributors HWK was responsible for conceptualisation, drafting, writing, editing, revising, fi gure design, communicating with the Lancet editorial offi ce, and leadership of author group meetings. CLC, EVL, and SK contributed to conceptualisation, drafting, writing, editing, and intellectual contributions through participation in author group meetings. SI contributed to conceptualisation, editing, and intellectual contributions through participation in author group meetings. JRA contributed to writing, editing, and intellectual contributions through participation in author group meetings. GL contributed to conceptualisation and intellectual contributions through participation in author group meetings.

Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group Jasem R Alkandari, Lars Bo Andersen, Adrian E Bauman, Steven N Blair, Ross C Brownson, Fiona C Bull, Cora L Craig, Ulf Ekelund, Shifalika Goenka, Regina Guthold, Pedro C Hallal, William L Haskell, Gregory W Heath, Shigeru Inoue, Sonja Kahlmeier, Peter T Katzmarzyk, Harold W Kohl 3rd, Estelle Victoria Lambert,

Panel 4: Lancet Physical Activity Observatory

How will we measure progress? The Working Group has prepared a list of primary goals to be monitored over time so that progress can be measured. These goals should serve as a unifying set of achievable actions that, when met, will result in a healthier world population. By 2016, the following four key goals in physical activity and public health are proposed:

1 Reduce the global prevalence of physical inactivity among adults from 31% to 28%

2 Increase the proportion of adolescents engaging in at least 1 h per day of vigorous and moderate-intensity physical activity from 21% to 24%

3 Reduce the proportions of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, and premature deaths worldwide that are attributable to physical inactivity by 10%

4 Increase the proportion of peer-reviewed scientifi c publications on physical activity (levels, trends, correlates, consequences, interventions, and policy) that come from low-income and middle-income countries over the total number of publications by 10%

In addition to the four primary goals, an additional series of secondary goals to be tracked over time and that will need data systems for assessment are proposed. To achieve these goals, the Lancet Physical Activity Observatory will be created. In addition to keeping track of the progress, reporting on that progress through publications and meetings, the observatory will work with other entities (Global Advocacy for Physical Activity and International Society for Physical Activity and Health, Agita Mundo and regional networks) on advocacy for physical activity promotion, in particular working with governments worldwide, to help countries to achieve the physical activity goals established here. Further details about the mission, purpose, primary and secondary goals, and objectives of the Lancet Physical Activity Observatory will be made available online.

For more on the Lancet Physical Activity Observatory see http:// www.lancetphysicalactivity


304 Vol 380 July 21, 2012

I-Min Lee, Grit Leetongin, Felipe Lobelo, Ruth J F Loos, Bess Marcus, Brian W Martin, Neville Owen, Diana C Parra, Michael Pratt, Pekka Puska, David Ogilvie, Rodrigo S Reis, James F Sallis, Olga Lucia Sarmiento, Jonathan C Wells.

Confl icts of interest We declare that we have no confl icts of interest.

Acknowledgments Input to draft versions of this report were provided by Reynaldo Martorell, Gregory W Heath, Kenneth E Powell, Fiona C Bull, Lise Gauvin, Art Salmon, Adrian E Bauman, Francesca Racioppi, Harry Rutter, Nick Cavill, and Trevor Shilton.

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Supplementary appendix This appendix formed part of the original submission and has been peer reviewed. We post it as supplied by the authors.

Supplement to: Kohl HW 3rd, Craig CL, Lambert EV, et al, for the Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group. The pandemic of physical inactivity: global action for public health. Lancet 2012; published online July 18. 6736(12)60898-8.

Page  1

National Planning – Experience from Kuwait – Web Panel 1

The evolution of physical activity promotion, internationally, and a series of related meetings in

Kuwait, the region and internationally, have started to generate an awareness among health authorities of

the importance of physical activity in health promotion and disease prevention. Kuwait has formed a

National Physical Activity Committee (KuNPAC) in 2007. This powerful group of interested, politically

and socially influential people representing multiple sectors, will guide and sustain the physical activity

efforts. The members represented the following sectors: education, health, media, politics, private

industry, sport, transportation, and urban planning. The World Health Organization (WHO), and the

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been important contributors in this process and

will continue to be valued partners as the Plan is implemented and shared with other countries.

In 2010, Kuwait introduced the National Physical Activity Plan, which could also serve as a

model for other regional countries. In contribution to build capacity, Kuwait in 2009 organized the first

regional International Course on Physical Activity and Public Health that was developed by CDC and the

International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) to prepare qualified people for

implementation and execution of the Plan in the country.

Several lessons have emerged from the Kuwait experience that may also be applied in other

countries. A highly representative National Committee creates commitment, minimizes controversy and

obstacles, facilitates multi-sectoral cooperation, especially at the government level, maximizes consensus

to implementation approaches later, and finally, to avoid conflict of interest and duplication of efforts.

Use of existing international morbidity, mortality and prevalence data to indicate the global problems of

non-communicable diseases such as obesity and physical inactivity to minimizes controversy and saves

money on new surveillance work. Use of evidence-based approaches to physical activity promotion and

policy frameworks from documented international sources helps to form an initial menu of

implementation possibilities. It is important to avoid the tyranny of semantics such as words that contain

many subtle nuances which can vary by country and consider, for example, collaborators helpers, partners

and associates which may in fact convey meanings that are more or less acceptable from country to

country. Finally, it is critical to have sufficient knowledge of cultural characteristics, local governance,

and other potential barriers, varying dominance of religion and politics, social infrastructure, potential

implementation domains and other factors unique to a country.

The priorities set and described in the Kuwait plan are based on considering both the needs and

opportunities in Kuwait for timely, socially relevant, and realizable physical activity promotion. The plan

will be implemented with the local associates through their implementation venues such as schools,

worksites, and other home and built environment venues.

Page  2

Policy Analysis – Web Panel 2

Developed through a collaboration between GAPA and HEPA Europe, the European network for

the promotion of health-enhancing physical activity, recently a policy audit tool (PAT) for health-

enhancing physical activity (HEPA) policies was presented ( (Bull et al.,

2011). The HEPA PAT was developed based on a literature review of previous work on cross country

comparisons on physical activity policy, identifying a set of 17 key attributes identified as essential for

successful implementation of a population-wide approach to the promotion of physical activity across the

life course (Bull et al., submitted).

The PAT is structured around these attributes in a ‘question and answer’ format, divided across

four sections: 1) overview of the political structure and history; 2) policy development and content; and 3)

policy implementation; 4) process undertaken to complete the PAT. A pilot study was carried out in

2009/2010 with researchers and public health officers from 7 European countries to improve clarity,

applicability across different countries and contexts as well as structure of the HEPA PAT and to develop

guidance on the approach used to complete the PAT; a final version is now available online


The PAT provides an instrument for a systematic approach to identifying all available policy

elements from across multiple sectors to capture the current status of physical activity policy (in terms of

both positive policy ‘supports’ and negative policy ‘barriers’) in a country along a set of 17 key attributes

identified as essential for successful implementation of a population-wide approach to the promotion of

physical activity across the life course. It can identify synergies and discrepancies between policy

documents as well as possible gaps. While not having been used for this purpose yet, initial experience

shows that this function of the PAT could also be useful for countries that start developing a dedicated

national physical activity promotion policy. Experience from extensive pilot-testing showed that the

process of completing the tool can foster collaboration between different government departments and

other organizations interested in HEPA (Bull et al., submitted). The HEPA PAT can provide a catalyst for

greater communication and joint strategic planning and actions and foster improved collaboration across

sectors for future policy development and implementation. When applied at the international level, the

PAT can provide researchers with an instrument that supports a systematic and coherent collection of

information for comparisons across countries.


Bull FC, Milton K, Kahlmeier S. Health-enhancing physical activity (HEPA) policy audit tool.

Copenhagen, WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2011 (, accessed 25 April


Page  3

Bull FC, Milton K, Kahlmeier S. National policy on physical activity: the development of a

policy audit tool (PAT). J Phys Act Health (submitted).

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

  • The pandemic of physical inactivity: global action for public health
    • The pandemic of physical inactivity should be a public health priority
    • Advancement of physical activity and public health: building on existing progress
      • Overview
      • Policy and planning
      • Leadership and advocacy
      • Training and professional development
      • Monitoring and surveillance
    • Beyond behavioural science to public health
    • Call to action
    • Conclusions
    • Acknowledgments
    • References


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