December 10, 2022

WHO calls for better and fairer opportunities for physical activity to improve health


The World Health Organization on Thursday called on decision-makers across the health, sport, education and transport sectors to urgently scale up provision of more inclusive programs and services and safer environments that promote physical activity in all communities. The Organization’s new advocacy brief, Fair Play: Building a strong physical activity system for more active people, explains how this can happen.

“There is an urgent need to provide people with better opportunities to live active healthy lives.  Today, the possibility for people to take part in physical activity is uneven and unfair. This inequity has only gotten worse  during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Deputy Director-General, “This is why WHO is stepping up actions with its partners around the world to tackle  the key barriers impeding people from becoming more active and healthier.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Up to 5 million deaths a year could be averted if the global population was more active, however, many live in areas with little or no access to spaces where they can safely walk, run, cycle or engage in other physical activities. Where opportunities do exist, they may not have been developed to meet the needs for older adults or people with disabilities. 

WHO statistics reveal that one in four adults, and four out of five adolescents, do not currently get enough physical activity.  Women are less active than men, with an over 8% difference at the global level (32% men vs 23%, women). High income countries are more inactive (37%) compared with middle income (26%) and low-income countries (16%).

The Fair Play brief is being released during WHO’s final webinar in a series convened to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on sport and physical activity. The brief highlights the main challenges and opportunities of how countries can build forward a fairer physical activity and sports system, and calls for all partners to strengthen collaborations and support countries to scale actions on promoting physical activity in all its form, for all ages and abilities.

Tendon and muscle injuries are the most common. DuxX/ Shutterstock

Dr Fiona Bull, Head of the Physical Activity Unit, said that the brief “is informed by the insights and experiences, and in line with WHO policies. It provides clear messages to all who work to create a more active society on what we need to do. WHO is calling for industries, civil society and governments, as well as UN agencies to build a common vision for creating more active societies through sport, walking, cycling and playing.”

There are three key actions to help increase participation: (1) stronger partnerships across sectors to deliver effective programs, services and safe environments that engage and support everyone to be active; (2) stronger governance structures and regulations to ensure environments support safe physical activity and inclusive programs and sport; and (3) broader, deeper and innovative financing mechanisms to build sustainable strong system that can provide physical activity and sport for all ages and abilities.

Fair Play: Building a strong physical activity system for more active people is an advocacy brief calling for urgent actions. It is responding to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ call for sport and physical activity to broaden its contribution to global efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals[1], and his calling on the global community to join up and work together to implement the effective solutions outlined in the global action plan on physical activity 2018-2030[2] in all countries, especially to support children, older adults and people living with disabilities. Solutions that work include sustained community campaigns, inclusive programs in local communities, and safer environments that support more walking and cycling, for everyone.

To be effective, the global community must address key barriers limiting global progress, namely 1. inadequate and inefficient use of resources; 2. insufficient policy, laws and regulatory frameworks; and 3. a fragmented delivery system of policy, partnerships and implementation.

Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization, during the Annual high-level discussion on human rights mainstreaming. 43rd session of the Human Rights Council , Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, February 24, 2020. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

WHO guidelines recommend everyone is regularly active for mental and physical health benefits. Adults should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week for all adults, and an average of 60 minutes per day for children and adolescents.

WHO encourages countries to implement the policy actions outlined in the WHO Global action plan on physical activity 2018-2030 to achieve the target of an increase in physical activity by 15% by 2030.

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