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Physical inactivity and associated factors among university students in 23 low-, middle- and high-income countries



The aim of this study was to determine estimates of the prevalence and social correlates of physical inactivity among university students in 23 low-, middle- and high-income countries.


The International Physical Activity Questionnaire was used to collect data from 17,928 undergraduate university students (mean age 20.8, SD = 2.8) from 24 universities in 23 countries.


The prevalence of physical inactivity was 41.4 %, ranging from 21.9 % in Kyrgyzstan to 80.6 % in Pakistan. In multivariate logistic regression, older age (22–30 years), studying in a low- or lower middle-income country, skipping breakfast and lack of social support were associated with physical inactivity. In men, being underweight, being overweight or obese, not avoiding fat and cholesterol, not having severe depression symptoms, low beliefs in the health benefits of physical activity, low personal control and knowledge of exercise-heart link, and in women, not trying to eat fibre, low personal mastery and medium personal control were additionally associated with physical inactivity.


Four in each ten students are physically inactive, calling for strategic interventions by relevant professionals in higher educational institutions.

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Partial funding for this study was provided by the South African Department of Higher Education. The following colleagues participated in this student health survey and contributed to data collection (locations of universities in parentheses) Bangladesh: Gias Uddin Ahsan (Dhaka); Barbados: T. Alafia Samuels (Bridgetown); Cameroon: Jacques Philippe Tsala Tsala (Yaounde); China: Tony Yung and Xiaoyan Xu (Hong Kong and Chengdu); Colombia: Carolina Mantilla (Pamplona); Grenada: Omowale Amuleru-Marshall (St. George); India: Krishna Mohan (Visakhapatnam); Indonesia: Indri Hapsari Susilowati (Jakarta); Ivory Coast: Issaka Tiembre (Abidjan); Jamaica: Caryl James (Kingston); Kyrgyzstan: Erkin M Mirrakhimov (Bishkek); Laos: Vanphanom Sychareun (Vientiane); Madagascar: Onya H Rahamefy (Antananarivo); Mauritius: Hemant Kumar Kassean (Réduit, Moka); Namibia: Pempelani Mufune (Windhoek); Nigeria: Solu Olowu (Ile-Ife); Pakistan: Rehana Reman (Karachi); Philippines: Alice Ferrer (Miagao); Russia: Alexander Gasparishvili (Moscow); Singapore: Mee Lian Wong (Singapore); South Africa: Tholene Sodi (Polokwane); Thailand: Tawatchai Apidechkul (Chiang Rai); Turkey: Neslihan Keser Özcan (Istanbul); Venezuela: Yajaira M Bastardo (Caracas).

Conflict of interest

Supa Pengpid, Karl Peltzer, Hemant Kumar Kassean, Jacques Philippe Tsala, Vanphanom Sychareun and Falk Müller-Riemenschneider, do not have any conflict of interest and conformed to the Helsinki Declaration concerning human rights and informed consent.

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Correspondence to Karl Peltzer.

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Pengpid, S., Peltzer, K., Kassean, H.K. et al. Physical inactivity and associated factors among university students in 23 low-, middle- and high-income countries. Int J Public Health 60, 539–549 (2015).

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  • Physical inactivity
  • Prevalence
  • Risk factors
  • Health behaviour
  • Depression
  • University students
  • Multi-country