Non-communicable disease kills 41 million people each year, equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally.[1] Inactivity has been identified as one of the four modifiable behaviours that contribute to NCD deaths and is often cited as a low-cost solution for prevention of NCD deaths. The WHO reports that 1.6 million deaths annually can be attributed to insufficient physical activity,[2] and that in 2013, the global cost of physical inactivity was estimated to be INT$ 68 billion per year.[3]

Reducing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases is prioritised in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through SDG target 3.4.  The World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan on Physical Activity sets out a framework of action to achieve a 15% relative reduction in the global prevalence of physical inactivity by 2030, while ensuring more people are physically active is an important prerequisite to Policy Area II.1 of the Kazan Action Plan.

Globally in 2016, just 19.0% of school going adolescent aged 11 – 17 were sufficiently physically active, i.e. they undertook 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily, as recommended by WHO. This shows little improvement from 2001 when 17.5% school going adolescent aged 11 – 17 were sufficiently physically active [4].

There was no clear pattern of insufficient physical activity among school going adolescents across income groups; the prevalence was highest in upper-middle-income, and lowest in lower-middle income countries.[5]

Inequality in physical activity among school-going adolescents has increased since 2001. In 2016 there was a 7.1% difference in physical activity levels of male and female school (22.4% of males verses 15.3% of females). This represents an increase from 2001 when there was a 5% difference (19.5% males verses 14.5% females).[6]

This inequality is influenced by multiple factors including cultural attitudes towards female participation in sport and recreational activity, unequal distribution of unpaid domestic labours and disparity in resource allocation between male and female sport and physical activity programmes.

Overall the data suggests that substantial additional investment and policy measures are required to enhance physical activity levels of school going adolescents.