Shifting the Physical Inactivity Curve Worldwide by Closing the Gender Gap

Grégore I. Mielke*, Inacio Crochemore M. da Silva, Tracy L. Kolbe-Alexander, Wendy J. Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The aims of this study were to (i) examine gender differences in physical inactivity in countries with different levels of Human Development Index (HDI); and (ii) assess whether small changes in the prevalence of inactivity in women could achieve the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global inactivity target. Methods: Data on inactivity were extracted for 142 countries for the year 2010 from the WHO Data Repository. Data for HDI were obtained for the year 2010 from the United Nations Development Program. Absolute and relative gender differences were calculated for countries according to four HDI categories. The potential effects of increasing women’s activity levels on achievement of the WHO physical inactivity target were computed. Results: Overall inactivity prevalence was higher in women (27%) than in men (20%). Women were more inactive than men in all except eight countries. Absolute gender differences [median 7.5% (range −10.1 to 33.2)] did not vary by HDI category, but there was a small negative correlation between relative gender difference in inactivity and HDI (rho −0.19; p = 0.02), which was mostly influenced by three outlier countries with low HDI. A decrease in inactivity levels of 4.8% points among women across the world would achieve the WHO target of reducing global levels of inactivity by 10%. Conclusion: Gender differences in the prevalence of physical inactivity were highly variable, both within and across categories of HDI. Interventions which result in small changes in inactivity prevalence in women would achieve the 2025 WHO global target for inactivity, without any change to the prevalence in men.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-489
Number of pages9
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


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