Inequality in physical activity, global trends by income inequality and gender in adults

Chastin SFM*, J. Van Cauwenberg, L. Maenhout, G. Cardon, E.V. Lambert, D. Van Dyck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)
76 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Physical inactivity is a global pandemic associated with a high burden of disease and premature mortality. There is also a trend in growing economic inequalities which impacts population health. There is no global analysis of the relationship between income inequality and population levels of physical inactivity.

METHODS: Two thousand sixteen World Health Organisation's country level data about compliance with the 2010 global physical activity guidelines were analysed against country level income interquantile ratio data obtained from the World Bank, OECD and World Income Inequality Database. The analysis was stratified by country income (Low, Middle and High) according to the World Bank classification and gender. Multiple regression was used to quantify the association between physical activity and income inequality. Models were adjusted for GDP and percentage of GDP spent on health care for each country and out of pocket health care spent.

RESULTS: Significantly higher levels of inactivity and a wider gap between the percentage of women and men meeting global physical activity guidelines were found in countries with higher income inequality in high and middle income countries irrespective of a country wealth and spend on health care. For example, in higher income countries, for each point increase in the interquantile ratio data, levels of inactivity in women were 3.73% (CI 0.89 6.57) higher, levels of inactivity in men were 2.04% (CI 0.08 4.15) higher and the gap in inactivity levels between women and men was 1.50% larger (CI 0.16 2.83). Similar relationships were found in middle income countries with lower effect sizes. These relationships were, however, not demonstrated in the low-income countries.

CONCLUSIONS: Economic inequalities, particularly in high- and middle- income countries might contribute to physical inactivity and might be an important factor to consider and address in order to combat the global inactivity pandemic and to achieve the World Health Organisation target for inactivity reduction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number142
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2020


  • adult
  • developed countries
  • economy
  • economic factors
  • exercise
  • female
  • health status
  • humans
  • income
  • male
  • sedentary behavior
  • sex factors
  • World Health Organization
  • inactivity
  • guidelines
  • physical activity
  • Gini index
  • inequaity
  • WHO activity guidelines


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