Identifying strategies to promote physical activity in North Macedonia

Ivan Minovski

The WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) found that around 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese in North Macedonia ¬– one of the highest rates in the WHO European Region. In response, the Ministry of Health requested that WHO conduct a fact-finding visit to the country.

In February 2019, a team from WHO joined local experts to assess current activities, barriers and opportunities related to the promotion of physical activity across the life course. There is widespread support for these efforts at the highest levels of government, including endorsement from the Prime Minister’s Special Adviser for Sport.

The team met with a range of government representatives who can play a key role in advocating for the promotion of physical activity. It also conducted school visits to witness demonstrations of physical education classes and inspect school recreational facilities to assess available infrastructure to support physical activity.

While the nutrition environment in schools could be improved, the WHO team and local experts agreed that a lack of quality physical education, access to school recreational facilities and opportunities for extracurricular physical activities outside of school hours are significant problems that need to be addressed with urgency now that high-level political commitment has provided momentum.

The visit concluded with the country’s first multisectoral stakeholder meeting specifically addressing physical activity. It brought together representatives of the sport, education, health, university and labour sectors, as well as local municipalities.

The event provided an opportunity to discuss ways to boost population physical activity, and yielded consensus on the following lines of action:

  • establishing a national coordinating mechanism;
  • strengthening surveillance and monitoring;
  • developing physical activity programmes to target all age groups and populations; and
  • increasing opportunities for physical activity for schoolchildren.

It is clear that more needs to be done to deliver quality physical education and provide opportunities for physical activity for people of all ages and abilities in North Macedonia. WHO will continue to support North Macedonia in their ongoing efforts to ensure that all members of the population can be active in their daily lives.