World Health Organization (WHO) today launched Move for Health as an annual global initiative to promote physical activity as essential for health and well-being. Announcing the move at the first International Conference for Sport and Development, in Magglingen, Switzerland, WHO Director General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland said the initiative reflected Member State concerns that the increasing chronic disease problems caused by unhealthy diet and physical inactivity should not be addressed in isolation.
“Following last year’s very successful World Health Day, the World Health Assembly urged Member States to celebrate a “Move for Health” day each year to promote physical activity as essential for health and well-being,” says Dr Brundtland. “We are very pleased to formally launch Move for Health as an annual initiative with broad links into communities around the world.” Move for Health is part of a broader WHO initiative to address the growing burden of chronic diseases through its Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, also mandated by the 55th WHA (May 2002). “WHO has worked successfully with the sports industry for many years to remove a global ‘bad’ in tobacco, and is now engaging positively to address the wider problem of chronic diseases,” says Dr Brundtland.
These initiatives are strongly backed by findings of the 2002 World Health Report, which lists physical inactivity among the main risks contributing to global chronic disease morbidity and mortality along with unhealthy diet and tobacco use. Overall, chronic diseases now account for 60% of premature deaths annually. Physical inactivity is estimated to cause 1.9 million deaths (in 2000) and about 15-20% of cases of ischaemic heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. The risk of getting a cardiovascular disease increases by up to 1.5 times in people who do not follow minimum physical activity recommendations. Worldwide, it is estimated that over 60% of adults are simply not active enough to benefit their health.
“Even as we continue to fight a rearguard action against the diseases of poverty, we are confronting the challenge of the increasing global burden of chronic disease,” says Dr Brundtland. “This is a result of changes in physical activity, diet and in the environment following rapid globalization and urbanization. Such largely preventable chronic diseases as cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers and respiratory diseases – as well as obesity and overweight problems – are now the major causes of death and disability worldwide.”
The solution to producing health, social and economic benefits from physical activity to all population groups is simple - at least 30 minutes moderate-intensity physical activity daily.
WHO proposes Member States celebrate the annual Move for Health Day on 10 May, but the timing of events will be left to the discretion and resources of individual countries. Encouraging Move for Health activities is “everybody’s responsibility,” says Dr Brundtland, and needs appropriate support from governmental agencies and development sectors, civil society including NGOs, political and professional organizations and relevant areas of the private sector.
WHO is encouraging a wide range of activities, from formulating local and national policies and strategic plans to increase public participation in physical activity; to raising public awareness about priority issues related to health and development. Move for Health activities can include organising walking, cycling and leisure sport campaigns in the community and the development of parks and open spaces where people can practice physical activity. “The Move for Health Day is part of a larger Move for Health Initiative linked to an on-going process to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles globally throughout the year in the context of an integrated prevention of major chronic diseases, promotion of good health and social development. Physical activity is a strong means for individuals to prevent serious disease, and a cost-effective way for societies to improve public health, ” says Dr Pekka Pushka, WHO’s Director, Noncommunicable Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Physical activity interacts positively with strategies to improve diet and discourage the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. These include campaigns such as WHO and its partners’ Tobacco Free Sports, which helped eliminate tobacco sponsorship from the 2002 World Cup, the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and a number of other major international sporting events.
The first International Conference for Sport and Development, from 16-18 February, focuses on the role sport can play in development and peace promotion. It is co-organised by Mr Adolf Ogi, the United Nations Secretary-General Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace with the Swiss Federal Office of Sport and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The conference brings together for the first time representatives from the UN, politics, sport, science, media, and the economy, as well as civil society from both developed and developing countries.
Approximately 200 high-profile participants are attending, including such well-known figures as IOC President Jacques Rogge, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, Russian Sports Minister and former world class ice-hockey player Vyacheslav Fetisov, Norwegian gold-medallist and President of The Right to Play (formerly Olympic Aid) Johann Olav Koss, the Swiss balloonist and UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador Bertrand Piccard, as well as Kipchoge ("Kip") Keino, the legendary Olympic champion and President of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya, with many other athletes.
"In the struggle against the great threats to humanity – poverty and war – we must exploit the positive mobilisation power of sport to the full and for this we need the commitment of all sectors of society,” says Mr Ogi.