Indianapolis – Developing countries, facing rates of physical inactivity approaching those of wealthier nations, may find solutions in technologies spreading equally fast. “Information and communication technologies, especially mobile phones, have the potential for population-level effects that could truly affect global health,” said Michael Pratt, M.D., FACSM. He and other experts are in Indianapolis for the American College of Sports Medicine’s 60th Annual Meeting and the fourth World Congress on Exercise is Medicine®.
“Physical inactivity levels,” said Pratt, “are higher than the prevalence of smoking or obesity. Even more concerning is the fact that 80 percent of adolescents worldwide fail to practice the recommended one hour per day of physical activity. Policy inaction to promote physical activity is one of the main threats to human health in the 21st century.”
The answer isn’t as simple as creating and distributing another smartphone app, said Pratt as he prepared to participate in an ACSM symposium based on a special issue in 2012 of the medical journal The Lancet focused on physical activity. The researchers called for better systems for monitoring physical activity worldwide and more research into the prevalence and causes of inactivity – and interventions that successfully address them – in low- and middle-income countries.
As deadly as tobacco
Referring to physical activity as a pandemic, Pratt cited estimates that physical inactivity causes about 5.3 million deaths per year, similar to an estimated five million from smoking. He credited inactivity with about nine percent of premature deaths. Reducing inactivity levels by 10 to 25 percent could prevent between 500,000 and 1.3 million deaths each year. Research has tied physical inactivity to increased risk for many non-communicable diseases, including coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancer.
While the connection between physical activity and health has been firmly established, said Pratt, there is much to be learned about physical activity as a public health intervention. “After four decades of research,” he said, “we don’t really understand why some people are active and others are not. Most research is from developed countries.” He proposed more study of causation rather than correlation and of interventions that succeed in increasing activity levels in developing countries, especially those using inter-sectoral partnerships and multi-level communication strategies across diverse socio/cultural groups.
Learning from what works
Pratt noted the success of programs in Colombia and Brazil as examples of public health interventions to consistently increase physical activity levels. He stressed the need to address research gaps: “Technology-based physical activity interventions and policies are unlikely to be optimized when 90 percent of the evidence and experience comes from high-income countries, while 84 percent of the world lives in the very different context of low-income and middle-income countries.”
The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 50,000 international, national, and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine. The 60th ACSM Annual Meeting brings more than 6,000 physicians, scientists, educators, students and others to the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis May 28-June 1. At the same time, the fourth World Congress on Exercise is Medicine® (EIM) convenes some of the world’s leading physical activity and health experts to build on the global charter launched in 2010. EIM sessions are held at the Indianapolis Westin.
The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM supports the 10 criteria for responsible health reporting as articulated by www.HealthNewsReview.org.