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We can’t underestimate the resources needed to implement new WHO physical activity guidelines: ISCA responds to public consultation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released its latest draft ‘Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour for children and adolescents, adults and older adults’ for public consultation until this Friday, 17 April. ISCA is set to present its feedback, urging the WHO to recognise that collective, rather than individual, efforts are key to ensuring the guidelines are followed and met, ISCA President Mogens Kirkeby writes.


Life has taught me that what seems easy in theory can be quite difficult to achieve in practice. Therefore, I suggest the WHO to reflect on the practical reality of changing behaviour and policies through its proposed ‘Guidelines on physical activity’, instead of theoretically easy perspectives.


ISCA appreciates the consultation process of the draft WHO guidelines and will comment on both the guidelines and the suggested measures to be taken to implement them, as outlined below.


The guidelines

ISCA appreciates:

  • The emphasis on sedentary behaviour, its impact on health and the further need for physical activity. This is a very important perspective.
  • The specific attention given to sub-populations such as pregnant/post-partum women and those living with chronic conditions or disability. This underlines the inclusive approach in the guidelines.
  • The updates to the wording, which we find more precise and concise in the current version.
  • That aerobic bouts of under 10 minutes are justified and recommended. This will make it easier to communicate and promote daily habits such as stair climbing.


The measures to be taken

ISCA agrees:

  • The measures to be taken should focus on a broad spectrum of initiatives. The ‘hardware’ (infrastructure), the ‘software’ (programmes and initiatives), the ‘org-ware’ (organisations and collaborations) and, not least, behaviour design.


However, we suggest that the guidelines always refer to the practical world and the difficulties that we know exist in transforming guidelines into practice.


As mentioned in the following text from the draft guidelines, we agree that incorporating more physical activity individually in our daily lives seems (theoretically) relatively easy. But we also know from practical experience and reality that it is very difficult to change people’s habits, as well as policies to increase physical activity in primary and secondary care, schools and workplaces.


Page 26 of the guidelines states (emphasis added): "Within the wider context of noncommunicable disease (NCD) prevention, additional cost to government and non-government organizations of guideline implementation may be minimised, if recommended physical activity can be relatively easily incorporated by individuals into their lives, or existing resources in primary and secondary care, schools, workplaces or transportation can be shifted resulting in increased physical activity."


Therefore, we recommend this challenge not to be communicated as easy, but as doable but difficult and with a need to invest a significant amount of resources to make it happen.