November 22, 2019
2 min read

Most adolescents are not physically active enough

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Most adolescents worldwide — including more girls than boys — fail to meet WHO physical activity guidelines, putting their health at risk, according to a study published in Lancet Child and Adolescent Health.

Results from the study — which enrolled 1.6 million children aged 11 to 17 years — showed that adolescents are falling short of WHO’s goal of a 15% relative reduction in global prevalence of insufficient physical activity by 2030.

“We are off track,” Regina Guthold, PhD, a scientist in the WHO department of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and aging, said at news conference. “This target will not be met if these trends continue.”

For the study, Guthold and colleagues included data from 298 school-based surveys from 146 countries, territories and areas. Results showed that more than 80% of school-going adolescents did not get the recommended 1 hour of physical activity per day, including 78% of boys and 85% of girls.

Girl running 
More than 80% of school-going adolescents are not getting the recommended 1 hour of physical activity per day. 
Source: Adobe Stock

In 2016, the difference in the proportion of girls and boys meeting the recommendation was found to be greater than 10 percentage points in 29% of countries (43 of 146), with the largest gaps occurring Ireland and the United States, where the difference was greater than 15 percentage points.

“What also might play a role are safety concerns that are more relevant to girls,” Guthold said. “In parks they might not consider it to be safe to go for a jog.”

Guthold suggested that implementing alternative forms of exercise for girls may have a positive impact.

“The important thing is to listen to the girls and hear what they’re interested in,” Guthold said. “It will be different — it might be different for different adolescent age groups, different for young adolescents vs. older adolescents.”

The prevalence of insufficient physical activity significantly decreased from 2001 to 2016 for boys, with no significant change for girls, according to the study. It was highest in high-income Asia Pacific regions — 89% for boys and 95.6% for girls.

“Thinking about what can be done — it really does require some investment in leadership in this area,” Leanne M. Riley, MSc, program manager for WHO’s department of non-communicable diseases, said at the conference. “It’s not going to naturally happen that young people are going to be more active. And of course, the health sector alone can’t just manage this problem. There needs to really be a high level of engagement across different sectors who have a different role to play.”– by Eamon Dreisbach

Disclosures: Guthold and Riley report no relevant financial disclosures.