Watch CBS News

United Nations health agency warns world to get active — or risk developing serious illness

United Nations - The World Health Organization published a 132-page report that found 500 million people will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other diseases if they don't increase their physical activity. The Global Status Report on Physical Activity 2022 warned that if the 194 countries surveyed do not take urgent action, the cost of illnesses will total U.S. $27 billion a year between 2020 and 2030.

"We need more countries to scale up implementation of policies to support people to be more active through walking, cycling, sport, and other physical activity," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the report, which measures progress by regions, rather than individual countries.

The report set out almost two dozen policy recommendations, including sports and physical education in schools and childcare, programs for the workplace, and safer roads to encourage more cycling and walking.

Only half of the nations surveyed had physical activity events on a mass scale or public information campaigns to encourage their citizens to work out, according to the report. It acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic "stalled" such initiatives and "widened inequities in access to and, opportunities for, engaging in physical activity for many communities."

"Meeting the global target for physical activity can only be achieved by more people becoming more active" through events that raise awareness on the benefits of physical activity, the report said.

"This new report highlights again the importance of investing in risk factor mitigation efforts to avoid the health and economic fallout of non-communicable diseases," Andrea Feigl, CEO and founder of the Health Finance Institute, told CBS News.

"Physical activity is a key ingredient for economic and social wellbeing, yet investment in infrastructure and political commitment towards prioritizing physical activity remain low at the global level," Feigl added. "And the report sets to shine light on this issue, and emphasizes how important it is that the healthy choice to be physically active needs to be the easy choice."

She said that the work done by the Health Finance Institute has "continuously shown that each dollar invested in chronic disease risk factor prevention such as reduction of physical inactivity yields returns up to seven times of the dollar invested."

Generally speaking, it is well-known that exercise is good for your health, and doctors often say that it is difficult to separate physical activity from other risk factors.

"We know that physical activity can make us feel better mentally and can decrease the risk of a number of medical problems," Dr. Jon LaPook, CBS News' chief medical correspondent and professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health, told CBS News. "We need to change our mindset from addressing health problems after they've developed to preventing them from happening in the first place. An important step in the right direction is doing exercise and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle."

But the point of the report is a broader one, said Dr. Ruediger Krech, director of the department of health promotion at the WHO.

"It is good for public health and makes economic sense to promote more physical activity for everyone," Krech said, adding that the target goal is a 15% increase in physical activity in the next eight years.

And there were limits to this study, according to Fiona Bull, the head of the WHO's physical activity unit. The indicators to measure a nation's parks, foot paths, and cycle lanes were not always available. 

"It can be a vicious circle, no indicator and no data leads to no tracking and no accountability, and then too often, to no policy and no investment," Bull said.

The report's charts and in-depth research, however, show that more can be done to avoid heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases. It found that there are "inequalities in levels of physical activity between women and men, girls and boys, old and young, and the socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged" on a global scale.

"This is unfair and unjust," the report concluded.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.