World Health Organization lays out five priorities for governments in getting people active

Dr. Fiona Bull, head of the physical activity unit at the World Health Organization (WHO), has emphasized that “demonstrating impact is essential” for the physical activity sector to realise its societal potential. “Without it, we are reduced to begging governments for handouts,” she said.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) outlined the road map of recommended policies for countries to pursue to enhance engagement with and maximise potential associated with the widespread adoption of physical activity practises.

The most recent study analyses the cost to the public health system of inactivity on physical activity, an analysis of each country’s progress on policy implementation, and recommendations for steps required to recover from the pandemic and attain GAPPA (Global action plan on physical activity 2018-2030) goals.

It was determined that global involvement in physical exercise might save direct public healthcare expenses by US$27 billion year, or US$300 billion by 2030. This would avoid an estimated 500 million additional cases of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and mental health disorders by 2030. “This $300 billion number is similar to the expense of training around one million physicians in the United Kingdom or 2.3 million in Brazil,” stated Dr Fiona Bull.

The report also highlighted that 194 countries are not making sufficient progress to fulfil their goal targets by 2030. 18 of the 29 policy indicators are met by fewer than half of the countries, while only two are met by more than three-quarters. Bull states that “progress is grindingly slow” while acknowledging the magnitude of the issues governments face.

To drive change and with the goal of speeding up progress the WHO has identified five key areas for change:

1. Firstly, we need governments to strengthen their ownership of the physical activity policies they’re responsible for, along with their leadership and accountability to implement those policies. As an example, we need all ministries of transport to appreciate their contribution to increasing physical activity through walking and cycling. They are the responsible government portfolio sector for this. Meanwhile, the education sector must ensure children have positive experiences in sport and physical activity in school, via quality physical education. We aren’t asking one department to do everything. We’re asking multiple departments to do their bit.

2. The second is stronger partnerships, which is something we’ve called for many times. Sport and health, but also transport and education, must work better and closer together. There also needs to be more collaboration with communities. It doesn’t have to be top-down; communities know what they need. Joined-up action will deliver the whole system approach that creates opportunities for everyone.

3. Third, to close the policy-action gap, we need to build the knowledge, competencies, workforce and guidance on how to do it. We need tools that translate high-level policy to really practical, feasible how-to advice.

4. Fourth, we must address data gaps. Data will inform, guide, and allow us to measure progress, yet there are some key indicator gaps that mean we don’t even know what progress we’re making – or not making. For example, we have no data on the provision of quality physical education; a global database does not exist. And that’s just one example. We don’t know what provision and access there is to be walking and cycling infrastructure, either, so we can’t track that or guide progress.

5. The fifth point is the need to review the alignment of financing and funding towards these policies; the implementation gap is no doubt in part due to insufficient funding and prioritisation. If we say we’re going to provide quality physical education and increase walking and cycling infrastructure, the budgets within those government portfolios must match the policy directions. At the moment, we have a mismatch in many countries.”

To read more about the actions being put In place click on the links below:

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