Why are sport and physical activity important for public health?

Evidence has been demonstrating that practicing of sport and physical activity on a regular basis contributes to the prevention and treatment of several chronic non-communicable diseases such obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular, rheumatologic and respiratory diseases, and cancer. In addition, they are crucial to citizens' mental health, improving their quality of life and wellbeing.

Taking into consideration that in the Europe Region, physical inactivity is increasingly responsible for a growing morbidity and mortality rates, it is relevant that governmental and non-governmental institutions, at the European, national as well as the local level, promote structured and coordinated strategies to increase sport and physical activity participation.

These strategies should be at the forefront of the interventions that need to be developed to decrease both health care and social costs, reduce pressure on health systems, and foster a sustainable development respecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030. In this context, monitor the progress and the impact of the implemented policy measures related with sport and physical activity at different governance levels is determinant to make the necessary adjustments.

1. Impact of sport and physical activity on public health

Sport and physical activity are associated with numerous benefits, not only at an individual level, but they also have a huge impact on the economic, social and cultural development of our societies. Based on the recent UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda until 2030, it is clear that both sport and physical activity can represent a relevant role towards achieving many of the defined objectives. Indeed, along with the fact of being a core coomponent of SDG 3 (health and well-being), sport and PA also contribute to the SDG identified in the previous figure.

2. Need for a monitoring framework

According to the WHO, two-thirds of the adult population of the EU do not reach the recommended levels of activity. As a result, physical inactivity is estimated to deprive Europeans of over 8 million days of healthy life every year, on average, and is responsible for around 1 million deaths. Monitoring PA and sport participation is a key prerequisite for designing effective policies and interventions for the prevention of NCDs, to improve the sustainability and safety of our cities and communities and for promoting inclusion and development.

The Council of the European Union acknowledged that the publication of contradictory data on physical activity levels and sport participation resulting from different survey instruments is a relevant obstacle to the design of better and adjusted policies to promote sport and physical activity which needed to be addressed on an European level.

In this sense, the Council has encouraged Member States (MS) to extend and deepen the cooperation among them and with the European Commission and WHO - Regional Office for Europe to overcome this situation and develop a reliable and efficient surveillance and monitoring system. This system should be able to provide valid, and comparable information, contributing to support the implementation of the Council recommendations in each MS and help them to evaluate national policies, strategies and action plans to promote sport and physical activity regular participation.

Based on this recommendations, and taking into consideration that in Europe there is a wide variety of monitoring systems with low comparability, a large group of EU MS agreed to contribute to the development of the European Union Physical Activity and Sport Monitoring System (EUPASMOS).

3. EUPASMOS project contribution

A system based on valid instruments to monitor physical activity and sport must provide data to increase the existing knowledge of the effectiveness of different approaches to promote physical activity levels and sport participation, enabling all involved policy makers to design better cost-effective policies and action plans, while sharing and communicating these results between EU MS. The EUPASMOS project developed a new integrated monitoring framework based on comparable, valid and reliable data, contributing to strengthening surveillance across MS and different HEPA sectors. It provides valuable information at all governance levels to improve policy definition and practical interventions to promote PA and sport participation, respecting equitable access and fostering social inclusion.

In order to identify the EU "landscape" regarding available validated questionnaires to assess physical activity in adults, EUPASMOS team has developed a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis which is available for consultation in the following link:
Sember, V. et al 2020. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(19), 7161

In addition, the EUPASMOS team has also developed a systematic review and meta-analysis to identify the validity and reliability of sedentary behavior questionnaires:
Meh, K. et al 2021. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(19), 7161

EUPASMOS team developed also, in the Hungarian cohort of the project, a criterion validity and reliability of the IPAQ short form against the RM42 accelerometer:
Ács, P. et al 2021. BMC Public Health 2021, 21(Suppl 1):381