Chronic disease prevention has been a key project for Professor Bauman for the past 30 years at the University of Sydney.
For epidemiologist Adrian Bauman, physical inactivity is the most inexcusable affliction of the modern world.
“People say they have no time for exercise,” he points out, “but they manage to spend two and a half hours per night watching television.” As a consequence, more than half the adult population in many countries is failing to meet the minimum guideline of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity.
The pandemic of inactivity has become one of the biggest risk factors standing in the way of improved health, says Professor Bauman, Sesquicentenary Professor in the School of Public Health and Director of the Prevention Research Collaboration at the Charles Perkins Centre.
A culture change is needed to engineer ways of building physical activity back into our lives – and it could be as simple as walking the dog, cycling to work, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
“We have got to change social norms,” he says. “In the same way that we made smoking socially unacceptable in many western countries, we have got to do the same with physical inactivity.”
Professor Bauman has been studying chronic disease prevention and the development and assessment of prevention research methods for more than 30 years.
He has been collaborating for much of that time with experts from the University of California, San Diego – including his former PhD supervisor at Sydney, John Pierce, now the Distinguished Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at UCSD. Another regular collaborator has been Professor Jim Sallis, the world’s leading physical activity researcher.
In a new research collaboration, Professor Bauman will be working with Mike Pratt, Professor of Global Health at UCSD, on a project looking at chronic disease prevention – including physical activity – in developing countries and countries in transition.
A second project with Professor Kevin Patrick, Director of the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems, will look at the effectiveness of apps, electronic technology and social media as health promotion intervention tools. Professor Margaret Allman-Farinelli from the School of Molecular Bioscience is the University of Sydney’s lead researcher in the project.
The solution to physical inactivity, says Professor Bauman, involves engagement with many parts of society including schools, sports organisations, transport planners, parks authorities and local government, all of whom can contribute towards making society more active. He also says that health professionals have a vital role to play in promoting the benefits of physical activity.
“We can reshape what we do in primary prevention,” he says. “Health professionals should build physical activity advice into their routine practice so that it becomes part of the way they interact with people.
“People don’t pay much attention to a pamphlet they are given. But they do take notice of the advice they get from health professionals.”