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What if…… everyone in the world was active?

Comment by Paul Leeson, EACPR Exercise, Basic and Translational Research Section

Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy
I-M Lee et al.
The Lancet, Volume 380, Issue 9838, Pages 219 - 229, 21 July 2012, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61031-9


Prediction of the future is notoriously difficult. However, we rely on predictions in all areas of our life, from working out the likelihood of it raining, to deciding the likelihood of an earthquake, to working out whether to invest in a particular share.
Lee et al. have applied analytical prediction techniques, such as Monte Carlo modelling, using global datasets, to work out what would happen to patterns of disease if everyone in the world started being active. They conclude the burden of non-communicable diseases would reduce by 6% and that the average life expectancy of the world population would increase by just over 8 months.
They provide tables of the population attributable risk on a country by country basis. Within Europe, intriguingly, the countries for which levels of activity are least relevant to their incidence of coronary artery disease are Greece and Estonia, whereas Serbia and Malta have the most to gain by increasing activity levels.
The authors accept the benefit does not appear to be that impressive but point out that the number represents the shift in disease incidence in the whole population.

Therefore if most of the population is already active there will not be much additional benefit. The benefit gained from an inactive individual becoming active is much greater.
More dramatic is that they point out that these population attributable fractions are similar to those previously calculated for smoking and obesity.