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846. Trends in prevalence of leisure time physical activity and inactivity: results from Australian National Health Surveys 1989 to 2011

Research Article
Josephine Chau, Tien Chey, Sarah Burks-Young, Lina Engelen and Adrian Bauman
September 2017

Commentary: Rona Macniven, GlobalPAnet Executive, The University of Sydney, Australia

Physical activity recommendations provide advice on how much activity is necessary for good health. Measuring physical activity levels of populations over time gives an indication of whether these recommendations are being met and particular population groups to target in physical activity promotion. This study examined trends in leisure time physical activity and inactivity in Australians aged 15 years or older from 1989 to 2011, finding overall consistency in the population overall but differences in the type of people who were meeting recommendations.

Six time points of the National Health Surveys assessed physical activity, each using the same questions which allowed for comparison. The data were analysed to determine trends in the percentage of adults achieving the physical activity recommendations of at least 150 minutes/week moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) as well as inactivity, defined as less than 30 minutes/week of MVPA).

The proportion of adults meeting recommendations declined slightly over time; 39.2% in 1989 and 40.7% in 2011 (p=0.012). Inactivity rates were similar at 38.7% in 1989 and 37.3% in 2011 (OR=0.999, p=0.242). However, there were significant differences in both measures according to gender, age, income, language spoken at home and health and smoking status. People who spoke English at home, had a degree or higher education level, were in the highest third of income group, reported excellent or good health, or were ex-smokers were more likely to meeting recommendations than those who were not. Regarding inactivity, people who were ‘married’, in the middle income third, who were underweight or overweight/obese, or who smoked were more likely to be inactive than those who were not.

This study provides useful, long term data on physical activity levels which are generally low in Australia. Particular groups, such as women, could benefit from more targeted promotional efforts but a holistic national physical activity plan for Australia is vital to efforts to improve physical activity levels for the health of the nation.  

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