Physical activity -time to step it up

 Most people know that exercise is good for them, personally and collectively. Physical activity  not  only  helps  prevent  disease  and  promote  healthy  lives,  it  also  enhances mental  well-being  and  social  interaction,  and  contributes  to  economic  development in different geographical, cultural, and political contexts. Unfortunately, people simply do  not  move  much  anymore.  

Indeed,  physical  inactivity  has  been  recognized  as  a global pandemic that demands global action (Horton, 2016). Based on self-reported data, the estimated global prevalence of physical inactivity for adults, defined as not achieving 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week (or an equivalent combination), was about 24 percent in 2016 (Horton, 2016). According to data from the WHO, Latin America and the Caribbean seems to follow this global trend with an adult prevalence of inactivity estimated at 32 percent. Latin America  and  the  Caribbean  ranks  second  among  regions  in  inactivity  in  the  world, behind the Americas region, of which it is also a part. 

Within Latin America and the Caribbean, Caribbean countries are the least active. For instance,  with  a  physical  inactivity  prevalence  rate  near  64  percent,  Colombia’s  rate almost doubles the regional rate. The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago and Saint Lucia follow in terms of physical inactivity, with rates between 43 percent and 41.5 percent. At the other extreme, Guatemala has the most active people with a prevalence rate of physical inactivity less than half the regional rate 

Given the known limitations of self-reported data (which may explain in part some of the variance within the region), the use of objective physical activity measures, such as accelerometers, to estimate national prevalence is growing (Horton, 2016). Recent research uses data captured from smartphones to analyze the habits of 717,000 men and  women  from  111  countries, 1 whose  steps  were  studied  for  an  average  of  95  days (Althoff et al., 2017) 2 .

 According to this study, physical activity, measured as daily steps, varies greatly among countries. The worldwide average for the 111 countries included in the analysis is 4,739 steps  per  day  (standard  deviation σ =  753)  over  an  average  span  of  14  hours.  Figure 3 shows the geographic distribution of physical activity across countries, where cold colors correspond to high activity and warm colors indicate low levels of activity. China, Ukraine, Japan, Belarus, and Russia lead the ranks of countries with the highest activity, with  nearly  6,211  steps.  In  contrast,  among  the  countries  with  the  lowest  activity  are several countries of the Persian Gulf, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Southeast Asia, like the Philippines and Malaysia. The least active are Pakistan, Honduras and El Salvador, with fewer than 3,415 steps 

According to this measure of physical activity, Latin American and Caribbean countries are in the bottom half of the ranking. The most active country in the region is Chile, which comes in 35th out of 111 countries with 5,204 steps, followed by Peru and Mexico, which  are  in  the  41st  and  59th  places,  with  5,075  and  4,692  steps,  respectively.  In contrast, Caribbean countries are the least active of the region. Dominican Republic, Bahamas, and Venezuela place 100th, 101st and 105th, marginally better than Honduras and El Salvador, which are the most inactive countries of the region—and the world. Physical activity, measured in steps, also varies within countries.

 Althoff et al. (2017) measure activity inequality within countries, which they define as the Gini coefficient of  the  population  activity  distribution.  They  focus  on  the  46  countries  with  at  least 1,000 smartphone users. Figure 5 shows the ranking of these countries according to the  Gini  coefficient,  where  a  value  of  100  represents  maximum  inequality.  The  Latin American  and  Caribbean  countries  included  in  the  sample  are  in  the  middle  of  the ranking.  For  example,  although  average  activity  is  similar  for  people  in  the  United States  and  Mexico,  individuals  in  the  United  States  reflect  a  wider  range  of  activity levels  than  those  in  Mexico,  hence  the  United  States  ranked  fourth  from  the  bottom in overall activity inequality while Mexico ranked 18th from the bottom. Thus, the gap between active and sedentary people is wider in the United States than in Mexico. 

Certain patterns emerge from the data. First, physical activity varies with age. According to  WHO  estimates,  physical  inactivity  is  even  more  worrisome  among  school-going adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17.

 For these adolescents, inactivity prevalence is  defined  as  not  achieving  at  least  60  minutes  of  moderate  to  vigorous  physical activity daily. Based on self-reported data, inactivity prevalence is extremely high, with a global average of approximately 81 percent. However, in part the apparently higher inactivity  prevalence  of  adolescents  over  adults  reflects  the  higher  recommended level for youth. Latin America and the Caribbean is no exception to this trend, ranking second among regions in terms of the inactivity of its school-going adolescents with a prevalence rate of 86.2 percent; only the youth of the Eastern Mediterranean are less active, with a prevalence rate of 87.5 percent 

Not  surprisingly,  physical  activity  plays  an  important  role  in  preventing  children  and adolescents  from  becoming  overweight  (body  mass  index  between  25  and  30)  and obese  (body  mass  index  greater  than  30),  and  reducing  the  risk  of  obesity  among adults. Compared to other world regions, physical activity is of particular importance in Latin America and the Caribbean where age-adjusted obesity is high among both adults and children. On average, 23 percent of the region’s adults are obese 

Worse  yet,  adult  and  child  obesity  is  increasing  more  than  in  other  world  regions. Obesity among adults in the 26 member countries of the IDB rose by 10 percentage points  from  1990  to  2015  compared  to  5.5  percentage  points  worldwide.  Among children  2  to  19  years  of  age,  obesity  grew  by  3  percentage  points  in  Latin  America and the Caribbean vs. 2.4 percentage points among all countries 

Source : American inter development bank stats

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