WHO Has a Warning for Couch Potatoes

Agency notes 'severe' cost for physical inactivity, with various diseases looming
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 20, 2022 9:30 AM CDT
WHO Warns of 'Severe' Cost of Physical Inactivity
We need action— and activity, WHO warns.   (Getty Images/AntonioGuillem)

Get active or risk disease. That's the message from the World Health Organization, whose first global report on physical activity indicates 500 million people in 194 countries will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, dementia, depression, or other diseases unless they boost their physical activity. "There are few areas in public health ... where evidence on required action is so convincing, cost-effective, and practical," according to the Global Status Report on Physical Activity 2022, which notes regular exercise reduces the risk of premature death by up to 30%, per the Guardian. Inaction comes at a "severe" cost—$27 billion per year between 2020 and 2030—and will strain "already overwhelmed health services," according to the WHO.

The report found fewer than 50% of surveyed countries have a national policy on physical activity. It is only possible to meet the global target for a 15% increase in physical activity by the end of this decade if more people become more active through mass-scale physical activity events or public information campaigns encouraging people to exercise, the report says. "We need more countries to scale up implementation of policies to support people to be more active through walking, cycling, sport, and other physical activity," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus writes in the report, which also calls for physical fitness programs in day care centers, schools, and workplaces, and improved road design to make walking and cycling safer.

"Each dollar invested in chronic disease risk factor prevention such as reduction of physical inactivity yields returns up to seven times of the dollar invested," Health Finance Institute CEO Andrea Feigl tells CBS News, which notes increasing physical activity also has benefits for mental health. Some 43% of the new cases of noncommunicable disease predicted to appear would result from depression, according to the report. It found "unfair and unjust" inequalities in levels of physical activity "between women and men, girls and boys, old and young, and the socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged" and adds "we hope countries and partners will use this report to build more active, healthier, and fairer societies for all." (More physical activity stories.)

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