The Pandemic of Physical Inactivity
An extraordinary collection of papers on physical activity and public health was published last month in The Lancet . A landmark paper , which the lead author blogged about in July, made a compelling case that physical inactivity is a risk factor that is as critical in causing major chronic diseases as smoking. The papers covered the most current worldwide information on physical inactivity including prevalence and trends , determinants , effective strategies that promote physical activity, and the influence of societal trends. The final paper, positioning physical inactivity as a pandemic, is a Call to Action for making physical activity a public health priority.
How do we improve global health through physical activity? Given the negative impact of physical inactivity on health, it is a problem as dire as tobacco use. It is prevalent and we have evidence of effective strategies to change it. Although we have learned much from behavioral sciences, this public health problem requires more than behavior change strategies on the individual level (e.g., a worksite walking program). As pointed out in the Call to Action the solution likely lies in a systems approach to change. Such an approach builds on the contributions of the health sector and expands it to include how the transportation, planning, education, workplace, sport sectors and the built environment should be major parts of the solution to promoting physical activity. We have successfully engineered physical activity out of every phase of our daily lives. It is time to reengineer our worlds to make the physically active choice the easy choice. The world will be healthier for it.
Harold W. (Bill) Kohl, III, Ph.D. is a member of the PCFSN Science Board and Professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center.