Last month, researchers from the World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported that the total weight of human beings on Earth is 287 million tons. Of that, 3.5 million tons is due to obesity and North America alone counts for a third of that even though we are only 6 percent of the world’s population. A lot has been written about the causes of obesity and obesity-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, but a set of new reports suggest that voluntary physical inactivity, basically being a couch potato, is increasing worldwide and contributing to these global gains.
An article in the NY Times last week summed up some of these latest figures and they show widespread physical inactivity in all corners of the world. In the past, sedentary lifestyles were seen as a luxury of rich countries, but poor countries are not nearly as active as they used to be. For example, while 43.3% of Americans and 34.8% of Europeans don’t meet the minimum recommendations for physical activity, more than 30% of Middle Easterners and 27% of Africans live sedentary lifestyles. These are large numbers and they lead to major health crises. In the U.S., almost 11% of all premature deaths are related to too little exercise and the World Health Organization estimates that more people die from diseases linked to physical activity each year than from smoking.
In prior blog posts, we have written about Bronx Health REACH’s efforts to increase access to parks in the Bronx and fight childhood obesity – both of which involve increasing physical activity. These efforts are working, but they are met with constant barriers, not least of which is a perception that if you look healthy you are healthy – even if you’re not exercising. As this new data shows, the global population is quickly becoming inactive and without targeted intervention, these numbers will only increase. To combat this, Bronx Health REACH is working on a number of initiatives with the Partnership for a Healthier NYC to increase utilization of city parks and to promote opportunities for free and low-cost physical activity (which can be found on the BeFitNYC website). We may lead the world in physical inactivity, but it only takes a 20-30 minute walk a day to reverse this trend. Visit your local parks or see what free or low-cost activities are happening in your neighborhood – it’s time to get off the couch and get moving!
Check out these websites to get started!
Girls on the Run: http://www.girlsontherun.org/
A Guide to Fitness and Nutrition Programs in the South Bronx: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/cdp/cdp-resource-sobronx.pdf