Four in five adolescents worldwide do not get enough physical activity, to the detriment of their health, the World Health Organization said yesterday, warning that girls especially need more exercise.
In its first ever report on global trends for adolescent physical activity, the UN health agency stressed that urgent action was needed to get teens off their screens and moving more.
“We absolutely need to do more or we will be looking at a very bleak health picture for these adolescents,” study co-author Leanne Riley told journalists.
The report, which was published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, is based on data from surveys conducted between 2001 and 2016 of some 1.6 million students between the ages of 11 and 17 across 146 countries.
It found that 81 percent did not meet the WHO recommendation of at least an hour a day of physical activity such as walking, playing, riding a bike or taking part in organised sports.
This is worrying, since regular physical activity provides a host of health benefits, from improved heart and respiratory fitness to better cognitive function, making learning easier. Exercise is also seen as an important tool in efforts to stem the global obesity epidemic.
But despite ambitious global targets for increasing physical activity, the study found virtually no change over the 15-year-period it covered.
While the report does not specifically study the reasons for adolescent physical inactivity, she suggested that the “electronic revolution... seems to have changed adolescents’ movement patterns and encourages them to sit more, to be less active.”
The report authors also pointed to poor infrastructure and insecurity making it difficult for adolescents to walk or bike to school.
The study found that levels of physical inactivity among adolescents were persistently high across all regions and all countries, ranging from 66 percent in Bangladesh to 94 percent in South Korea.
And the situation was particularly concerning for girls, with only 15 percent of them worldwide getting the prescribed amount of physical activity, compared to 22 percent for boys.