Sunday, July 21, 2024

Physical activity in the EU: policies that make people happier

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On Move for Health Day (10 May), WHO/Europe presents a new database dedicated to physical activity in the European Union (EU) and policies that have been implemented to promote healthy active lifestyles.

The latest data shows that 1 in 3 people in the EU are not active enough. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for many noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer.

Physical activity is not only a great way to stay healthy. It’s uplifting, improves well-being and – simply put – makes people happier.

Physical activity can save €8 billion a year

If everyone in the EU would achieve the 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, as recommended by WHO, it could significantly decrease the number of cases of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes in the region, reduce health-care costs and save EU countries around €8 billion every year, collectively.

“If every one of us would choose to become more active individually that would be wonderful. But people deserve an environment where health-enhancing physical activity is an integral part of everyday life. That can be created only if decision-makers, health professionals and communities take united action and develop effective policies,” said Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, WHO/Europe Regional Adviser, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

WHO/Europe has created a new database in its European Health Information Gateway that shows what WHO-recommended policies have been implemented in the EU. Overall, there are 23 policy indicators for countries in the database, ranging from physical activity promotion policies for vulnerable social groups, through awareness campaigns, to funding.

Popular EU policies: youth in focus

The EU is focused on educating and promoting physical activity among children and youth. According to the WHO database, all 27 countries:

  • have a national health-enhancing physical activity action plan for the sports sector;
  • have physical education as part of their school programmes;
  • are carrying out estimates of the rate of children and adolescents reaching the recommended levels of physical activity.

Least implemented EU policies

Two EU indicators are distinguished by the low rates of accomplishment. The Sports Clubs for Health programme was implemented in 6 EU countries, and the European Guidelines for Improving Infrastructure for Leisure-time Physical Activity was implemented only in 5.

“Fewer countries met these indicators as they assess the use of very specific guidelines developed for projects funded by the European Commission,” explains Stephen Whiting, Technical Officer at the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.

Policies for happiness

An overall improvement in the implementation of EU policies can be observed between 2015 and 2021. During these years, the average proportion of the 23 indicators accomplished by EU countries increased, although the pace of progress slowed down after 2018.

As the data shows, EU countries have made progress implementing the following measures:

  • supporting interventions to promote physical activity in older adults (22 of 27 countries);
  • promoting physical activity in the workplace (20 countries);
  • training of physical education teachers (24 countries);
  • granting wider access to exercise facilities for socially disadvantaged groups (21 countries);
  • producing national recommendations on physical activity for health (23 countries).

“There is still much room for improvement to ensure that people – not only in the EU but all across the WHO European Region – can be physically active every day, throughout their life. Physical activity not only makes us healthier but happier,” added Stephen Whiting. “Countries can help by supporting physical activity in vulnerable social groups, by creating more opportunities for active travel or using urban design to create more spaces for fun and play.”

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