The fifth and final paper in The Lancet Series on physical inactivity explained that because of the global reach, high prevalence, and colossal harms of inactivity, it should be considered pandemic.

Harold W. Kohl, III, leading author and from the University of Texas Health School of Public Health, said:

"The role of physical inactivity continues to be undervalued despite evidence of its protective effects being available for more than 60 years and the evident cost burden posed by present levels of physical inactivity globally."

He added how worse it is that people's response to physical inactivity has been unfocused, incomplete, and unquestionably understaffed and underfunded. Other risk factors for non-communicable diseases are taken more seriously, are paid much more attention to, and receive much more funding. The effect of this tardiness, he said, has been putting physical activity in reverse gear compared with population trends and improvements in alcohol and tobacco control and diet.

Unfortunately, in both developed and developing countries, national programs to help people change their current lifestyles into more energetic ones meeting the recommended activity levels, is still very limited. Even though almost 3 quarters of World Heath Organization (WHO) member states have plans to improve physical activity, just 55% of those plans are effective and 42% are funded and effective.

Kohl and colleagues explained in order to address physical inactivity as a real public health concern, a lot of work still needs to be done. "Substantial improvements in the infrastructure of planning and policy, leadership and advocacy, workforce training and surveillance must be realized."

They said, "Traditional public health approaches, where responsibility for change has resided with the health sector, will not be sufficient."

Many countries in the world struggle with physical inactivity, and for it to be less of an issue, requires coordination, collaboration, and communication with multiple partners (for example, transport engineers, school authorities, city community planners, the media, and recreation and park officials).

The authors want capacity building to be the most important across various sectors of influence, such as transport, health, education, sport, and business.

They said:

"This is of particular importance in countries with low-to-middle incomes, where rapid economic and social changes are likely to reduce the domestic, work, and transport-related physical activity demands of daily life. Improved understanding of what works best in these nations will be key to developing national policies and action plans."

The experts believe that the key to improving physical activity worldwide is with a systems-based approach to address the population-level causes of inactivity, rather than efforts based on individual health.

Written by Sarah Glynn