Socio-economic disparities and physical inactivity

The harmful consequences of physical inactivity on morbidity and mortality are well documented. Physical inactivity is an independent risk factor for premature mortality and many chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Although the beneficial impact of having a physically active lifestyle is recognized, a significant proportion of the adult population does not meet the physical activity guidelines. Moreover, there is a large variability in the prevalence of physical inactivity according to country income. In a recent paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the chronic disease burden associated with physical inactivity has been estimated according to the level of country income.

Using data from several meta-analyses and pooled analyses, the prevalence of physical inactivity varied from 16.2% to 26.0% and 36.8% in low-income, middle-income and high-income countries, respectively. The population attributable risks (PAR) for all outcomes investigated in the study were greater in high-income countries than those in low-income countries. However, 69% of total deaths and 74% of cardiovascular deaths were observed in middle-income countries due to their large population size.

These results once again stress the very significant contribution of physical inactivity as a major cause of chronic diseases. Unfortunately, it appears that the socio-economic model of affluent countries has a side effect (physical inactivity) which is not compatible with optimal health. Concerted efforts aimed at the promotion of physical activity should be a high priority, particularly in middle-income and high-income countries. Policy makers will have to pay attention to this phenomenon.