• WHO predicts inaction on exercise could cause almost 500m new cases of preventable non-communicable diseases
  • Governments called to “scale up” policies for benefit to “societies, environments and economies”
  • Existing “slow and uneven” policies are acheiving “little progress”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on governments to do more to encourage people to exercise to prevent almost 500 million cases of non-communcable diseases (NCDs) by 2030.

Aggregating and evaluating data from 194 countries, the WHO’s inaugural global report on physical activity found only half of countries had a national policy on physical activity.

The report found less than 30% of countries monitored physical activity in children under five.

The WHO predicts that by 2030 there will an extra 499,208,000,000 new cases of NCDs and mental health conditions, with a resulting cost of approximately £24 billion annually.

The report further predicts that over 40% of NCDs will occur in lower middle-income countries such as India, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

NCDs include heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes and chronic lung disease and are responsible for 7 in 10 deaths globally.

All NCDs share four common risk factors – smoking, lack of physical activity, harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets – also known as modifiable risks.

According to the report, high blood pressure would make up almost half of all NCDs, and 43% would be cases of depression.

The WHO approximates that 7% to 8% of cardiovascular disease, depression and dementia cases could be prevented if people engaged in more regular exercise.

Regular exercise reduces the risk of premature death by 20-30%.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s Director General, called on governments to “scale up” policies for benefit to “societies, environments and economies”.

The report concludes that “there are few areas in public health where evidence on required action is so convincing, cost effective and practical.”

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