Washington, D.C., 7 December 2012 (PAHO/WHO) – Representatives of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and members of the World Federation of Sporting Goods (WFSGI) and the Sport and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) met this week at PAHO headquarters to discuss collaborative action to promote physical activity and active living in the Americas.
“The region of the Americas is the most overweight and least active in terms of physical activity of any WHO region, and we need to join forces to prevent and control the effects of NCDs [non-communicable diseases] such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer,” said Dr. Marcos Espinal, PAHO Area Manager for Disease Prevention and Control, in opening remarks for the December 5 event.
The meeting was held within the framework of the Pan American Forum for Action on NCDs (PAFNCD), a platform for multisectoral dialog and alliance building that was created by PAHO in response to the mandates of its Member States and the United Nations High-Level Meeting on NCDs (2011), which called for efforts to address the growing epidemic of NCD globally and in the Americas.
Irene Klinger, PAFNCD’s coordinator, noted that promotion of healthy and active lifestyles is one of seven areas of action endorsed by representatives of governments, academia, the scientific community, civil society, and the private sector in support of PAHO/WHO’s regional and global strategies on NCDs.
“No one actor or sector can confront inactivity and its impact on society and development, which is why we need an approach that involves multiple allies and different sectors,” said Klinger.
“Raising levels of physical activity in the population has never been more urgent or critical than now—we have a serious problem,” said James Hospedales, PAHO Senior Advisor on prevention and control of chronic diseases. He said a global goal has been set of increasing physical activity in the population by 10% by the year 2020.
Participants in the meeting agreed on the need for joint action to address and reverse the health consequences of physical inactivity, particularly among children.
WFSGI Secretary General Robbert de Kock said the meeting “helped define joint efforts going forward as well as mechanisms for expanding existing efforts.”
Representatives of Nike, Adidas, Advanced Sport, Asics, Ispo, New Balance, Pentland/Speedo, Reebok, Rollerblade USA and Under Armour presented efforts their companies are carrying out to promote physical activity, including races, walks, school programs, breast cancer education, and initiatives to promote swimming, self-esteem among children, health work places, and empowerment of athletes, among others.
Caitlin Morris, of Nike, presented the results of a report titled Designed to Move (www.designedtomove.org). “Physical inactivity has become the norm. We have left movement out of our lives,” she said. “In the United States, physical activity has declined 32% in the past 44 years. We have to break the cycle.”
SFIA President Tom Cove noted that efforts to promote physical activity among children can yield long-term results. “If you can get children into the habit of physical activity, as adults they will be more committed to it throughout their lives,” he said. “Every dollar invested in physical activity can save $3.20 in medical costs.”
Among noteworthy initiatives that currently exist to promote active living in the Americas are Ciclovías Recreativas de las Américas (“Recreational bikeways of the Americas”), the Physical Activity Network of the Americas (RAFA/PANA), and “healthy schools” networks. In addition, physical activity advocates are working actively in areas including urban planning, public transport systems, and health promotion in workplaces and educational institutions.
The PAFNCD meeting highlighted possibilities for creating alliances across sectors to mobilize each sector’s comparative advantages to have a significant, catalytic impact on promotion of physical activity.
Physical inactivity, as a main risk factor, is estimated to be responsible for some 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of ischemic heart disease.
PAHO, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.