Health journal highlights ‘inactivity pandemic’

Health journal The Lancet has highlighted a global inactivity “pandemic”, highlighting both the scale of the problem and the evidence of what works to tackle it.

The current issue of The Lancet made headlines with a series of articles, highlighting the mounting worldwide crisis of physical inactivity.

An introductory article explains that adults need to do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week to maintain good health – that equates to a two-way 15 minute cycle commute, five times a week. It also says that failure to reach this level caused 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths worldwide in 2008. 

The first research article looks at how inactivity levels vary from country to country. Britain is third worst in Europe with 63% of the adult population insufficiently active, beaten only by Serbia and Malta. Europe’s most active country was the Netherlands, with only 18% of adults failing to meet the physical activity guideline.

A second article examines why some people are more active than others. It shows, among other things, that people are more likely to take up physical activity if they have been active in the past. We currently lack good research evidence that people who have cycled (or taken part in cycle training) as children or teenagers are more likely to cycle later in life. However this article makes that assumption all the more plausible.

The third article focuses on evidence from around the world about what works to encourage greater physical activity. It highlights the role of transport policies and urban design, including cycle routes and trails.

However it also flags up the benefits of media-based and other awareness campaigns, and of community-based activities, such as group-based exercise opportunities in public parks.

This very much supports the work CTC is doing through its Cycle Champions and Bike Club programmes, enabling people of all ages and backgrounds – health patients, people with disabilities, teenage girls and women from ethnic minority backgrounds and disadvantaged young people – to give cycling a try, in a supportive peer-group setting. 

Finally the authors cite the value of weekly events such as Bogota’s “Ciclovia” and similar events in other cities, where roads are closed to motor traffic and opened up for people to walk, cycle, skate and enjoy using the streets as public space.

The final article points to the need for leadership and joined-up action to promote physical activities, from Government departments involved in transport, planning, education recreation etc – exactly as CTC and other cycling groups have been calling for.

The Lancet was published on the day that the Commons Transport Select Committee echoed CTC President Jon Snow's call for stronger leadership on road safety.  As the Government prepares to issue a transport strategy document this autumn, we will be urging them to take note!

Roger Geffen