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Canadians believe physical inactivity is nearly as bad as smoking: study

UBC researchers look at the ‘social climate’ surrounding physical inactivity

More than half of Canadians think not being active is a worrying trend, a study from the University of B.C. suggests.

The study of 2,500 Canadians, published this week in the journal BMC Public Health, is the first to look at the “social climate”— society’s feelings, attitudes, beliefs and opinions — surrounding physical inactivity, researchers said.

Fifty-five per cent of people think physical inactivity is a “serious public health concern,” compared to the 58 per cent worried about unhealthy diets and 57 per cent concerned about tobacco use.

READ MORE: Make phys. ed. a priority to avoid ‘embarrassing’ gym classes, say experts

Only 10 per cent of kids, and 20 per cent of adults, are meeting current guidelines for physical activity.

It’s important to measure what people think about physical inactivity, researchers said, because seeing how the public views an issue is key to determining how to fix it.

Just 21 per cent of those surveyed believed physical inactivity was a personal issue, while 66 per cent thought it was both a public and private health matter.

“Many recognize the importance of thinking beyond the individual, so we have an interesting platform for considering innovative policies at the national, provincial and territorial levels,” said Guy Faulkner, UBC kinesiology professor and senior study author.

Faulkner drew parallels between physical inactivity and smoking, saying society’s more negative perceptions of smoking allowed government to bring in regulations.

“Taking legislative action — for example, banning smoking in bars — became more acceptable when there were appropriate levels of public support to move forward with those types of actions,” Faulkner said.

Following up on the benchmark established by this study, researchers hope to conduct the survey again in 2025 to see if attitudes have changed.


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