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'Couch Potato' Lifestyles Cause Up to 8% of Global Deaths: Study

TUESDAY, March 30, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- "Couch potatoes," take note: Sedentary behavior now accounts for up to 8% of non-communicable diseases and deaths worldwide, researchers say.

Physical inactivity is a known risk factor for premature death and several non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and several cancers.

In a new study, researchers analyzed 2016 data from 168 countries. They found the proportions of non-communicable diseases attributable to physical inactivity ranged from nearly 2% for high blood pressure to more than 8% for dementia.

Physical inactivity was defined as less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.

People in rich nations have a more than two times greater risk of these physical inactivity-related diseases than people in poor nations. In 2016, levels of physical inactivity in wealthy countries were estimated to be more than double those in low-income countries.

However, middle-income countries have the highest number of people at risk from inactivity because of their larger populations. This means they account for 69% of all deaths and 74% of heart disease deaths associated with physical inactivity worldwide.

In fact, 80% of non-communicable disease deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

The burden of deaths associated with physical inactivity is greatest in Latin American and Caribbean countries, and high-income Western and Asia Pacific countries, said researchers led by Peter Katzmarzyk, of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.

The lowest rates are in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and East and Southeast Asia, according to the study. The results were published online March 29 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

This is an observational study, so it can't establish cause and effect. But the "public health burden associated with physical inactivity is truly a global issue that will require international collaboration to mobilize change and achieve these public health goals," the researchers said in a journal news release.

In 2018, the World Health Assembly set a goal of reducing worldwide levels of physical inactivity by 15% by 2030.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity.

SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine, news release, March 29, 2021

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