WHO says close to 80% of Singapore’s adolescents are not active enough

Singapore was one of only six countries which saw a decrease of more than five per cent in the prevalence of insufficient activity in boys, from 77.7 per cent in 2001 to 69.7 per cent in 2016.
The Straits Times

Couch potato lifestyles have become the norm.

A large majority of Singapore teenagers do not get enough exercise, said the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a report released last Friday (Nov 22).

Overall, 76.3 per cent of Singapore adolescents, aged 11 to 17, had insufficient physical activity in 2016, as compared to 81.2 per cent in 2001.

Based on a study of 1.6 million people across 146 countries, the organisation found that more than 8 in 10 teenagers globally did not meet current recommendations of at least one hour of physical activity per day – including 78 per cent of boys and 85 per cent of girls.

However, the figures for Singapore have shown an improvement over the 15 year period, especially among boys, WHO said.

The prevalence of Singapore boys who had insufficient physical activity dropped from 77.7 per cent in 2001 to 69.7 per cent in 2016, making the Republic one of only six countries which saw a decrease of more than five percentage points.

As for Singapore girls, 83.1 per cent did not get sufficient exercise in 2016, a slight improvement from the 84.9 per cent observed in 2001.

South Korea is most inactive

Globally, in 2016, Philippines was the country with the highest prevalence of inactive boys (92.8 per cent), whereas South Korea had the highest prevalence of inactive girls (97.2 per cent) and both genders combined (94.2 per cent).

On the contrary, Bangladesh was the most active, registering the lowest prevalence of insufficient physical activity among boys, girls, and both genders combined (63.2 per cent, 69.2 per cent and 66.1 per cent, respectively).

Singapore’s adolescents also had more physical activity as compared to their regional counterparts, almost nine per cent lower in prevalence than the East and South-east Asia (which does not include Singapore and South Korea) average of 85.5 per cent.

In neighbouring Malaysia, 86.2 per cent of teenagers do not get enough exercise, while Cambodia had the highest figure in the region, with 91.6 per cent of adolescents being inactive.

In addition, the study found that there was a “significant global difference” between sexes in 2016, particularly in high-income countries such as Singapore, the USA and Ireland – which all showed an “absolute difference” in prevalence of more than 13 percentage points.

Out of the 146 countries studied, girls were only more active than boys in four countries: Afghanistan, Samoa, Tonga and Zambia.

Dr. Leanne Riley, a co-author of the study, said that the “trend of girls being less active than boys is concerning”.

“More opportunities to meet the needs and interests of girls are needed to attract and sustain their participation in physical activity through adolescence and into adulthood,” she said.

“Countries must develop or update their policies and allocate the necessary resources to increase physical activity,” added co-author Dr. Fiona Bull.

According to WHO, exercise during adolescence improves respiratory and muscular fitness, supports cognitive development and socialising, and helps to maintain a positive weight.

Current evidence also suggests that many of these benefits carry into adulthood, it added.

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