As life expectancy across the globe steadily increases, chronic and degenerative diseases are becoming the norm in many countries, fueled by the rapid rise of obesity due to physical inactivity.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) convened in Dubai, UAE on February 23 for a two-day ‘Move for Health’ forum to address just that.

The push for the forum came following recent statistics naming the Middle East as the most unfit region for young adults, age 15 to age 29. It is also the second-most unfit region for adults and the most unfit region for women worldwide. Approximately 50% of Middle Eastern women are deemed physically inactive.

Given what people know about global inactivity trends, these statistics are not so shocking.

Physical inactivity is the fourth-leading risk factor for global mortality, accounting for 3.2 million deaths worldwide. It is also directly responsible for 27% of diabetes cases, 30% of heart diseases, and 21-25% of breast and colon cancer cases. More than 30% of people over the age of 15 are physically inactive, 28%t of them men and 34% of them women.

Given these daunting numbers, it is no surprise that physical inactivity is one of the most pressing global health challenges at present.

Among those who spoke at the forum was Dr. Ala’a Alwan, the regional director of the Eastern Mediterranean Region at the WHO. Noting the severity of the issue, Alwan reiterated the importance of making efforts to recognize physical inactivity as a public health priority by developing national awareness campaigns.

The forum also shed light on a new policy to be implemented in the UAE, as well as 34 other signatory countries. The policy follows a multi-sectoral approach and pledges to reduce physical inactivity levels by 10% by the year 2025. Included is a seven-step program targeting public education, school-wide programs, community programs, healthcare, sports awareness, urban design and transport policies.

Specifically, the policy aims at communicating to the general public the idea that physical activity is not limited to sports. It also includes any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that uses energy, from walking or cycling to dancing and swimming.

The WHO and UAE’s Ministry of Health are promoting having people exercise five days each week for 30 minutes to reduce current levels of inactivity across the globe, and in the Middle East.

– Mollie O’Brien

Photo: Niwemang
Emirates 24/7, Zawya, World Health Organization