Background: Although there is a growing agreement among researchers that the modern environment contributes to the current trend of decreasing leisure-time physical activity (LTPA), there are very few studies addressing environmental and policy correlates of LTPA within a cross-national European context. This study describes LTPA patterns across the European Union and identifies some macro-environmental factors associated with LTPA rates at a national level.
Methods: Data on LTPA and indicators of the economic, physical, and policy environment were assembled from international databases for the 27 European member states. To examine the association of each of the independent macro-environmental variables and LTPA as a continuous dependent variable, bivariate linear regression models were employed. Separate analyses were done for the overall, male, and female groups.
Results: With respect to LTPA, striking differences between European member states and genders were found, with higher rates in Western and Northern European countries, and among males. Statistical significant associations were observed between overall LTPA and variables from the economic (GDP, real GDP, and public expenditures on health), food (available fat, available fruit, and vegetables), urbanisation (urban population, total and new passenger cars), and policy (all governance indicators) domains. Associations for male and female LTPA were similar, except that for males available fruit and vegetables, and for females available fat and urban population were not significant.
Conclusions: This exploratory study seeks to plead for the need for cross-nationally comparable LTPA data and more sophisticated research in order to understand the role of macro-economic environments, with a special focus on policy-related variables and gender-specific differences.