New WHO report shows high cost of physical inactivity

World Cancer Research Fund International welcomes a new World Health Organization (WHO) report which highlights a global lack of progress in implementing physical activity policy recommendations.

19 October 2022

The new Global Status Report on Physical Activity analyses data from 194 countries to assess progress against recommendations from the WHO Global Action Plan for Physical Activity, such as policies to create safer roads to encourage more active transport, and provide more programmes and opportunities for physical activity in key settings such as childcare, schools, primary healthcare and the workplace.

It shows that progress is slow and that countries need to accelerate the development and implementation of policies to increase levels of physical activity. Key findings from the report include:

  • Less than half of countries have a national physical activity policy, of which less than 40% are operational.
  • Only 30% of countries have national physical activity guidelines for all age groups.
  • Just over 40% of countries have road design standards that make walking and cycling safer.

The report calls for countries to prioritise physical activity to improve health and tackle non-communicable diseases, integrate physical activity into all relevant policies, and develop tools, guidance and training to improve implementation.

World Cancer Research Fund’s evidence shows that being physically active decreases the risk of colon, breast and endometrial cancers, and also helps to maintain a healthy weight. The economic burden of physical inactivity is large, with 70% of healthcare expenditure in high-income countries spent on treating illness resulting from physical inactivity.

Kate Oldridge-Turner, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

This report clearly shows that much more needs to be done by almost all governments to create environments to reduce physical inactivity, so people can live longer and healthier lives.

Physical activity must be a priority for all countries, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, and the current cost-of-living crisis. Now more than ever we need to help people become more active, not only to ensure a healthy and resilient population, but also to reduce healthcare expenditure in the long term.

World Cancer Research Fund International was delighted to act as a reviewer on this report.

Find out how we support and promote physical activity policy development and implementation through our MOVING policy framework and database.