Physical inactivity: the "Cinderella" risk factor for noncommunicable disease prevention

J Health Commun. 2011 Aug;16 Suppl 2:13-26. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2011.601226.


There is strong evidence demonstrating the direct and indirect pathways by which physical activity prevents many of the major noncommunicable diseases (NCD) responsible for premature death and disability. Physical inactivity was identified as the 4th leading risk factor for the prevention of NCD, preceded only by tobacco use, hypertension, and high blood glucose levels, and accounting for more than 3 million preventable deaths globally in 2010. Physical inactivity is a global public health priority but, in most countries, this has not yet resulted in widespread recognition nor specific physical activity-related policy action at the necessary scale. Instead, physical inactivity could be described as the Cinderella of NCD risk factors, defined as "poverty of policy attention and resourcing proportionate to its importance." The pressing question is "Why is this so?" The authors identify and discuss 8 possible explanations and the need for more effective communication on the importance of physical activity in the NCD prevention context. Although not all of the issues identified will be relevant for any 1 country, it is likely that at different times and in different combinations these 8 problems continue to delay national-level progress on addressing physical inactivity in many countries. The authors confirm that there is sufficient evidence to act, and that much better use of well-planned, coherent communication strategies are needed in most countries and at the international level. Significant opportunities exist. The Toronto Charter on Physical Activity and the Seven Investments that Work are 2 useful tools to support increased advocacy on physical activity within and beyond the context of the crucial 2011 UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs.

MeSH terms

  • Global Health*
  • Health Communication*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity*
  • Preventive Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sedentary Behavior