Published: 05th September 2018
Half of India's women don't get enough exercise, says WHO study
The gender gap in physical activity reveals a health equity issue where women face more environmental, social and cultural barriers to participate in physical activity
Here's a scary number for you, especially if you're a couch potato. Every second woman and every fourth man in India doesn't get enough physical activity to stay healthy, according to a report by the World Health Organization published in the Lancet Global Health journal on Tuesday. Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and breast and colon cancer. "It has a negative effect on mental health and quality of life as well. We describe levels of insufficient physical activity across countries and estimate global and regional trends," read the report authored by Regina Guthold, Gretchen A Stevens, Leanne M Riley and Fiona C Bull.
India has the highest number of inactive adults in the South-Asia group which also included Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan. A total of 43.9 per cent of women in India have been unable to meet the standard physical activity quota while 24.7 per cent of men are inactive. "Addressing these inequalities in physical activity levels between men and women will be critical to achieving global activity targets and will require interventions to promote and improve women’s access to opportunities that are safe, affordable and culturally acceptable," said co-author Fiona Bull, WHO, Geneva. Prevalence of diabetes has increased by 64 per cent across India over the last 25 years, according to a report by the Indian Council for Medical Research, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the Public Health Foundation of India in 2017. World Obesity Federation's data showed that five per cent of Indian adults will be obese by 2025.
The data was pooled from population-based surveys from 2001-16 reporting the prevalence of insufficient physical activity — physical activity at work, at home, for transport, and during leisure time, ie, not doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or any equivalent combination of the two.
Experts commenting on the high number of Indian/Asian women who appear to be inactive suggest that it may be a result of cultural and social barriers keeping them from hitting the gym, "The gender gap in physical activity, particularly in central Asia, Middle East and North Africa and South Asia reveals a health equity issue where women face more environmental, social and cultural barriers to participate in physical activity, particularly in their leisure time," said Melody Ding, University of Sydney, Australia.
She added that the inactivity levels across developed and developing countries had reached a sort of stasis, "Although high-income countries have a higher prevalence of insufficient physical activity, it is important to note that low and middle-income countries still bear the larger share of the global disease burden of physical inactivity. Furthermore, economic development and urbanisation lead to lifestyle and epidemiological transitions, characterised by increasing prevalence of physical inactivity and subsequent burdens from chronic diseases."
Not so fit: India has the most number of inactive adults in South Asia
The report's findings suggest that there has been an increase of 5 per cent in the prevalence of insufficient activity in high-income countries, from 32 per cent in 2001 to 37 per cent in 2016. In comparison, there has been an average rise of just 0.2 per cent amongst low-income countries (16.0 per cent to 16.2 per cent). “Regions with increasing levels of insufficient physical activity are a major concern for public health and the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs),” said Guthold
"If current trends continue, the 2025 global physical activity target (a 10 per cent relative reduction in insufficient physical activity) will not be met. Policies to increase population levels of physical activity need to be prioritised and scaled up urgently," the report pointed out. "Physical activity has positive effects on mental health, delays the onset of dementia, and can help the maintenance of a healthy weight."