Study series explores global inactivity pandemic

Atop the smoldering hierarchy of human health’s most formidable foes, cigarettes may have finally met their match. According to a series of papers published in the journal Lancet, one in ten premature deaths around the world each year are due to physical inactivity — a startling statistic usually reserved for smoking.

As one of the papers hypothesizes, approximately 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths across the globe in 2008 were the result of a lack of activity. The four primary culprits: heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer. Piloted by I-Min Lee, a contributor to the division of preventative medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the report proposes that if physical inactivity could be reduced by 10 percent, some 533,000 deaths could be thwarted; along the same statistical line, a 25 percent reduction could counteract an estimated 1.3 million deaths. Lee and company employed a calculation known as the population attributable fraction (PAF), which measures contribution risk aspects such as lack of physical activity to prominent, life-swindling diseases. Researchers were able to surmise from the PAF just how many deaths would be theoretically averted if the risk factor were no more. In total, physical inactivity was assumed to cause roughly 6 percent of heart disease deaths, 7 percent of Type 2 diabetes deaths and 10 percent of breast cancer and colon cancer deaths in 123 countries.

Another study in the Lancet compilation, conducted by Pedro Hallal of the Federal University of Pelotas and his team, discovered that 31 percent of adults hailing from 122 different countries (1.5 billion people) as well as 4 out of 5 teenagers from 105 countries aren’t exercising up to standard — 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week is the criterion. Americans were touted as the most sedentary region in Hallal's study, with 43 percent of the nation not getting enough exercise. Those in south Asia were the most active, with only 17 percent not working out the recommended amount.

Despite these jarring numbers, promotions of activity are not properly funded, Hallel told the Los Angeles Times. “It gets underfunded and undervalued, but it’s huge everywhere in the world.”

Authors of another study discussed possible public methods needed to promote more activity. Popular responses to the inactivity pandemic included cleaning the streets and walkways, posting signs that encourage people to take the stairs instead of elevators, offering free and open fitness classes, walking instead of driving when permitable and physicians providing incentives and information to their patients about exercise.

No matter their Lancet focus, all experts claimed that inactivity was a global issue requiring a collaborative effort worldwide to ensure longer, leaner lives. Until then, those who refuse to move may be denied a life lived to its fullest extent.