Multisectoral action to promote physical activity in Switzerland

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Although most people know that being physically active improves health dramatically, levels of physical activity are far too low. This leads to an increased risk of a range of conditions and diseases, such as overweight and obesity, ischaemic heart disease, strokes, diabetes and some types of cancer, notably breast and colon cancer.

The figures are worrying. The global figures from 2010 show that:

  • 23% of adults aged 18 years and over were insufficiently physically active.
  • Women were less active than men and older people were less active than younger people.
  • 81% of adolescents aged 11–17 years were insufficiently physically active.
  • Adolescent girls were less active than adolescent boys, with 84% versus 78% not meeting the WHO recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

Intersectoral collaboration needed for programmes to be effective

“Physical activity is one of the key levers in improving health and saving lives, but to make physical activity an integral part of people’s lives, it is essential that sectors outside of the health sector are involved,” says Gauden Galea, Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and and Promoting Health through the Life-course at WHO/Europe.

Switzerland already has experience of involving different sectors to promote physical activity. In January 2013, the Swiss Government approved the Swiss Health 2020 strategy, which emphasizes that a person’s health is determined by up to 60% through factors outside the health sector. The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health has focused on specific cooperative projects with other federal agencies in order to create opportunities to promote physical activity in urban and regional planning.

Examples of collaboration for physical activity

One example of an initiative to promote physical activity in Switzerland is the Model Project — Sustainable Spatial Development 2014–2018. This promotes activities that encourage physical activity in Switzerland’s urban areas, where 75% of the population lives. Nine open-space projects are currently receiving support. One such project is in Sursee, where 17 communities have committed themselves to promoting open spaces as places for physical activity and sport, recreation, leisure and meetings. This is part of the regional urban planning strategy, with the strong participation of civil society and a special focus on seniors, young people and people with disabilities — ensuring easy access for all.

A project in Winterthur promotes social diversity and the effective use of public and semi-private open spaces. It uses measures such as intercommunal planning processes and construction quality standards, offering incentives to various stakeholders, including real-estate owners.

Another example of the Model Project is in Fribourg, where civil society groups in 10 communities (French and German) have created nature-friendly open spaces that also encourage physical activity and serve as a place for people to meet. There is a focus on students, seniors and migrants, and the open spaces are connected with roads for active mobility.

Global target for combating noncommunicable disease through physical activity

The World Health Organization has defined nine voluntary global targets that address key noncommunicable disease risk factors, including tobacco use, salt intake, physical inactivity, high blood pressure and the harmful use of alcohol. The target for physical activity is a 10% relative reduction in the prevalence of insufficient physical activity by 2025.