Large-scale physical activity data reveal worldwide activity inequality

To be able to curb the global pandemic of physical inactivity and the associated 5.3 million deaths per year, we need to understand the basic principles that govern physical activity. However, there is a lack of large-scale measurements of physical activity patterns across free-living populations worldwide.

In this study, researchers leveraged the wide usage of smartphones with built-in accelerometry to measure physical activity at the global scale. They studied a dataset consisting of 68 million days of physical activity for 717,527 people, giving them a window into activity in 111 countries across the globe.

They found inequality in how activity was distributed within countries and that this inequality was a better predictor of obesity prevalence in the population than average activity volume. Reduced activity in females contributed to a large portion of the observed activity inequality.Aspects of the built environment, such as the walkability of a city, were associated with a smaller gender gap in activity and lower activity inequality.


In more walkable cities, activity was greater throughout the day and throughout the week, across age, gender, and body mass index (BMI) groups, with the greatest increases in activity found for females. Their findings have implications for global public health policy and urban planning and highlight the role of activity inequality and the built environment in improving physical activity and health.


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