Physical inactivity (PIA) is a mortality risk factor defined as performing lower levels of physical activity than recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). After 2002, the WHO released the WHA55.23 Resolution and the Global Strategy which produced several changes in policymaking, but with no subsequent analyses of the impact of these changes in European Union (EU) policymaking while examining PIA prevalence.
PIA of 31,946 adults as a whole sample and country-by-country were analyzed in the 2002 and 2005 EU Special Eurobarometers. PIA prevalence between countries was performed with the χ2 test and PIA between both years and between genders was analyzed with the Z-Score test for two population proportions. A retrospective analysis of national plans was performed to interpret the suitability of such policy documents, considering changes in PIA prevalence.
Differences in PIA prevalence were observed between countries (p < 0.001) and years (p < 0.001) for the whole sample and men and women separately. Within-country samples showed no differences for Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Portugal, and Spain (p > 0.05). When considering gender, there were no gender reductions in subsamples for Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and United Kingdom, neither in Luxemburg for men, nor in France and Italy for women. When analyzing gender differences across the entire sample, PIA was higher in women than men for both years (p < 0.001). Greece and Luxemburg did not release national plans for promoting physical activity.
While large differences in PIA prevalence between EU countries prevailed, the overall PIA descended between both years for the whole sample, men, and women. While this points out a general suitability of policymaking for reducing PIA, not all countries reported reductions in PIA for men, women, or both genders. Also, PIA levels were higher for women in both years, suggesting a less than optimal policy implementation, or lack of women-specific focus across the EU. This analysis helps to identify the strengths and weaknesses of PIA policymaking in the EU and provides researchers with targeted intervention areas for future development.