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The Pandemic of Physical Inactivity did not find its cure in 2013

OPINION – Mogens Kirkeby, ISCA President

It has been well known for years that physical inactivity is a serious threat to public health globally. As the fourth leading death cause and with serious impact on the leading death cause (cardio vascular diseases) one should believe and expect that physical inactivity, and its simple solution of physical activity, is starting to climb onto public agendas worldwide. But not enough governments are stepping up to the task to combat physical inactivity. Will that change in 2014?

Last year the renowned medical journal The Lancet published articles categorising the situation of physical inactivity as a ‘Pandemic of Physical Inactivity’. Not an “epidemic” but a “pandemic” – that is serious business.


The authors of The Lancet’s articles state that: “Theoretically, prioritisation for public health action is informed largely by three factors: the prevalence and trends of a health disorder; the magnitude of the risk associated with exposure to that disorder; and evidence for effective prevention and control.”


And they continue: “Too often, however, the inertia of tradition, pressure from special interest groups, media attention, and other external forces can overcome this approach.”


So did 2013 bring us closer to initiatives which can reverse this trend of increasing physical inactivity? Did we come closer to a cure for the Pandemic of Physical Inactivity?


The short answer is, NO!


It is widely agreed upon that the promotion of physical activity, with its strong and efficient impact, will only happen if several sectors take ownership of the challenges to increase the level of physical activity. A single sector or just a few stakeholders from a couple of sectors do not have a chance of winning the fight against a global pandemic on their own.


2013 was the year of the 5th International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport, the so-called MINEPS V. This meeting of high level representatives from the primary physical activity sectors of physical education and sport produced a 17-page Declaration. Very fine words on paper, but it is both relevant and fair to ask: When will the Declaration be turned into governmental actions? Will it be in 2014? Or will promotion of physical activity be a matter for civil society and the corporate sector?


Major companies have joined civil society-based organisations in the effort to promote physical activity, developing and sharing solutions together. Cross-sector alliances are promoting and lobbying for stronger focus on physical activity and hopefully we will also see stronger incentives and support from governments in 2014. It’s our best way to move toward change where it’s absolutely needed.