European ministers of health adopt strategy to tackle physical inactivity in 53 WHO Member States

For further information, contact:

Joao Breda
Programme Manager for Nutrition, Obesity and Physical Activity
Division of Noncommunicable diseases and Promoting Health through the Life-course
WHO Regional Office for Europe
UN City, Marmorvej 51
2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Mobile: + 45 30 50 80 22

Tina Kiaer
Communications Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
UN City, Marmorvej 51
2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Mobile: +45 30 36 37 36

Copenhagen, Vilnius, 16 September 2015

WHO estimates indicate that, in Europe, more than one third of adults and two thirds of adolescents are insufficiently active.  Worldwide, physical inactivity causes 6–10% of cases of coronary heart disease, diabetes and breast and colon cancer and 9% of premature mortality.

First WHO European physical activity strategy 2016–2025

"We can drastically reduce the number of people suffering from noncommunicable diseases by increasing physical activity levels and reducing sedentary behavior," said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, today at the 65th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe.

"Health systems across the Region risk being crippled by people suffering the effects of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour. To address this, we have developed the first physical activity strategy for the WHO European Region 2016–2025.

"We encourage governments to join forces to work across sectors to implement the strategy and to translate it to the national level. It is our expectation that it will enable citizens to have better, longer lives by promoting physical activity as part of their everyday lives." 

The risk for heart disease of the most active individuals is reduced by around 30%.  

Despite the known benefits of physical activity, there is a worldwide trend towards less and less activity and more sedentary behaviour. More people are living sedentary lives: sitting all day at work, watching television, spending leisure time in front of a computer and using a car instead of walking or cycling. Combined with a diet high in fat, salt and sugar, this has contributed significantly to the number of deaths and disability from cardiovascular disease in the European Region. Participation in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week is estimated to reduce the risk for heart disease significantly.

People with disadvantaged backgrounds, minority ethnic groups and people with disabilities engage in less physical activity for several reasons, notably economic difficulties or places to exercise safely or lack of recreational facilities, and therefore do not achieve the levels recommended by WHO.

Rates of overweight and obesity are rising dramatically

In 46 countries of the WHO European Region, more than 50% of adults are overweight or obese; in several of those countries, the rate in the adult population is close to 70%.  Data from the WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) show that, in some countries, more than 40% of 7- and 8-year-old boys are overweight, and more than 20% are obese. 

Key objectives of the new strategy

The 53 Member States of the WHO European Region acknowledged the need for action by endorsing the new physical activity strategy for the WHO European Region 2016–2025 at the 65th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, in Vilnius, Lithuania. The aim of the strategy is to inspire governments and stakeholders to work towards increasing levels of physical activity by:

  • promoting physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour;
  • ensuring that places are available for physical activity in attractive, safe built environments, accessible public spaces and infrastructure;
  • providing equal opportunities for physical activity, regardless of gender, age, income, education, ethnicity or disability; and
  • removing barriers to and facilitating physical activity.