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Inactivity still too high in Australia

1 August 2017
60 percent of Australians are not moving enough

Activity levels in Australia have hardly moved over the past 22 years, requiring a wider approach, according to a new report.

Three in five adult Australians are not doing enough physical activity, according to a new report showing activity levels changed little from 1989 to 2011 and that campaigns to promote physical activity have failed.

The report’s lead researcher, Dr Josephine Chau from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health and Charles Perkins Centre, says a wider-ranging approach is needed to address the stagnant levels of physical activity.

“This research suggests we need to be more motivated to explore other ways of promoting an active lifestyle. We need a national approach to physical activity that incorporates everyone’s needs,” says Dr Chau.

“The approach will need to be something that’s across sectors, thinks outside the health systems box, and be coordinated under a national plan. There are a number of non-government organisations that have attempted to raise physical activity as a health priority, such as the Heart Foundation, but they are often working in parallel instead of together.”

“We need the political will for a national, cohesive, and comprehensive strategy, which means Federal government backing.”

“In saying that, we can’t just have a one-size-fits-all approach. People of different genders, backgrounds and socio-economic situations all have varying resources and needs. The approach will need to be well coordinated and take into account all the different sectors of society, including the communities and environments in which they live.”

The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health found that only 39.2 percent of adults in 1989 were sufficiently active, with that rising only marginally to 40.7 percent in 2011. In that same time period, inactivity in adults dropped from 38.7 percent to 37.3 percent.

There was a discrepancy between genders with women’s activity rates rising slightly from 35.5 percent in 1989 to 36.2 percent in 2011. While men’s activity rates increased from 43.1 percent to 45.3 percent.

Overall the study shows a decrease in the levels of physical activity in Australia while inactivity levels have remained steady. Only two-fifths of the population achieved sufficient levels of activity over the 22-year period, with a little over one third being inactive.

The research also indicates that public health approaches to raise the levels of physical activity in Australia have had limited success in addressing this issue, “and much more coordinated, cross-sectoral, cross-government actions are needed to achieve an active Australia”, says co-author, Professor Adrian Bauman.

The report is based on physical activity data gathered from six Australian National Health Surveys completed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics from 1989/90 to 2011/12.

Trends in the prevalence of sufficient physical activity (greater than or equal to 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity) and of inactivity (less than or equal to 30 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity) were analysed to illustrate activity levels in Australia.

Elliott Richardson

Assistant Media Advisor (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)