Physical activity in 22 African countries: results from the World Health Organization STEPwise approach to chronic disease risk factor surveillance

Am J Prev Med. 2011 Jul;41(1):52-60. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.03.008.


Background: Baseline physical activity data are needed to effectively plan programs and policies to prevent noncommunicable diseases, but for many African countries these data are lacking.

Purpose: To describe and compare levels and patterns of physical activity among adults across 22 African countries.

Methods: Data from 57,038 individuals from 22 countries (11 national and 11 subnational samples) that participated in the STEPwise approach to chronic disease risk factor surveillance (2003-2009) were analyzed in 2010. The validated Global Physical Activity Questionnaire (GPAQ) was used to assess days and duration of physical activity at work, for transport, and during leisure time in a typical week.

Results: Overall, 83.8% of men and 75.7% of women met WHO physical activity recommendations (at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or equivalent). Country prevalence ranged from 46.8% (Mali) to 96.0% (Mozambique). Physical activity, both at work and for transport, including walking, had large contributions to overall physical activity, while physical activity during leisure time was rare in the analyzed countries.

Conclusions: Physical activity levels varied greatly across African countries and population subgroups. Leisure time activity was consistently low. These data will be useful to inform policymakers and to guide interventions to promote physical activity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Africa
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity*
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Transportation / statistics & numerical data
  • Walking / statistics & numerical data
  • World Health Organization