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India ranks 8th in WHO study on physical activity among adolescents

While data was pooled from 298 school-based surveys across 146 countries including 1·6 million students aged 11–17 years. More than four in five school-going adolescents aged 11–17 years were insufficiently physically active in 2016.

Written by ANURADHA MASCAREHNAS | Pune | Published: November 22, 2019 5:44:29 am
Indians in physical activity, Physical activity India, India WHO Physical activity report, indian express news The assessment included all types of physical activity, such as time spent in active play, recreation and sports, active domestic chores, walking and cycling or other types of active transportation, physical education and planned exercise. (Representational image)

A cricket-loving nation has now got the World Health Organisation (WHO) stamp of approval for the sport! India is among the top ten ranking countries with the lowest level of insufficient physical activity among adolescents. Bangladesh tops the list while USA’s adolescents figure fourth on the list of 146 countries. India is ranked eighth with overall prevalence of insufficient physical activity in adolescents at 73.9 per cent.

The new WHO study, finds that more than 80 per cent of school-going adolescents globally did not meet current recommendations of at least one hour of physical activity per day – including 85 per cent of girls and 78 per cent of boys. Yet, among 146 countries, the lowest levels of insufficient physical activity in boys were found in Bangladesh, India and USA. In 2016, Philippines was the country with the highest prevalence of insufficient activity among boys (93 per cent), whereas South Korea showed highest levels among girls (97 per cent) and both genders combined (94 per cent).

Authors of the study to be published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health on Friday have noted that the lower levels of insufficient physical activity in Bangladesh and India (where 63 per cent and 72 per cent of boys were insufficiently active in 2016, respectively) may be explained by the strong focus on national sports like cricket. The US rates (64 per cent) may be driven by good physical education in schools, pervasive media coverage of sports, and good availability of sports clubs (such as ice hockey, American football, basketball, or baseball).

Lead author of the study Regina Guthold from the Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing Department, WHO, told The Indian Express that the percentage of insufficient physical activity in India was 74 per cent (72 per cent for boys and 76 per cent for girls). “So while India is below the global average there are still ¾ of Indian adolescents not getting enough physical activity. Also similar to the global trend, since 2001, India has shown small decreases in insufficient physical activity in boys, but not in girls,” Dr Guthold said.

The potential explanation for this somewhat lower prevalence of insufficient physical activity in India as compared to other countries could be the importance of national sports like cricket (particularly for boys), adolescents are still active as they walk to and from school and girls are more actively involved in household chores, Guthold added.

While data was pooled from 298 school-based surveys across 146 countries including 1·6 million students aged 11–17 years. More than four in five school-going adolescents aged 11–17 years were insufficiently physically active in 2016. The study presents adolescent prevalence of insufficient physical activity and estimates for the first time – global, regional and national trends from 2001 to 2016. The assessment included all types of physical activity, such as time spent in active play, recreation and sports, active domestic chores, walking and cycling or other types of active transportation, physical education and planned exercise.

Between 2001 and 2016, prevalence decreased by 2·5 percentage points (significant change) for boys (from 80·1% to 77·6% ), whereas there was no significant change for girls (from 85·1% to 84·7%) leading to a significant global difference of 7·1 percentage points in insufficient activity between sexes in 2016. If these trends continue, the global target of a 15 per cent relative reduction in insufficient physical activity will not be met by 2030, the WHO study has said.

In India the overall prevalence of insufficient physical activity in adolescents in 2001 was 76.6 per cent which has now decreased to 73.9 per cent in 2016. Among boys the prevalence of physical activity in 2001 was 76.6 per cent which has climbed down to 71.8 per cent in 2016. Among girls it was 76.6per cent in 2001 which has decreased slightly to 76.3 per cent in 2016. For girls, the lowest levels of insufficient activity were seen in Bangladesh and India, and are potentially explained by societal factors, such as increased domestic chores in the home for girls.

The study also finds across all 146 countries studied between 2001-2016 girls were less active than boys in all but four (Tonga, Samoa, Afghanistan and Zambia). The difference in the proportion of boys and girls meeting the recommendations was greater than 10 percentage points in almost one in three countries in 2016 ( 43 of 146 countries), with the biggest gaps seen in the United States of America and Ireland (more than 15 percentage points). Most countries in the study (107 of 146) saw this gender gap widen between 2001-2016.

“Urgent policy action to increase physical activity is needed now, particularly to promote and retain girls’ participation in physical activity,” Dr Guthold also stressed. The study authors have recommended urgent scaling up of known effective policies and programmes to increase physical activity in adolescents.

Dr J S Todkkar, director of the state task force on non communicable diseases told The Indian Express that they have embarked upon a campaign to fight obesity and step up awareness on physical inactivity. Apart from a documentary `The Zero Life’ to draw attention of schools, families and society to the increasing menace of obesity the campaign has also recommended compulsory physical activity for an hour at schools apart from creating enough playgrounds across towns and cities. Dr Rajiv Yeravadekar, Dean of Faculty of Health Sciences, Symbiosis International University also pointed out that physical training periods at school often get compromised due to academic constraints and said this study was a wake up call.

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