Health-enhancing physical activity across European Union countries: the Eurobarometer study


The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the development of comparable national physical activity surveillance systems to assess trends within and amongst countries as the Global Strategy for Diet and Physical Activity is implemented. To date, the lack of well-standardised measurement instruments has impeded such efforts, but new methodologies are being developed for this purpose. This paper describes the usefulness of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) in population samples. The Special Eurobarometer Wave 58.2 2002 covered physical activity and provided a good vehicle for assessment of health-enhancing physical activity (HEPA) in the European Union. Data from around 1,000 individuals in each of the 15 member states were collected after careful translation of the questionnaire. IPAQ scoring protocol version 2 was used for definition of activity categories. Data on the prevalence of sufficient total activity, sedentariness, frequent walking and sitting, in total and by gender across European Union (EU) countries showed consistent patterns. The prevalence of sufficient physical activity for health across the member countries was 29%. It ranged from 44% in the Netherlands to 23% in Sweden. The prevalence of sedentariness across countries was in general the mirror image. Regular walking was most prevalent in Spain. Gender was related to physical activity in that men were 1.6 times more likely than women to be sufficiently active, less likely to be sedentary and slightly more likely to sit for at least 6 hours daily. The findings suggest that two thirds of the adult populations of the European countries are insufficiently active for optimal health benefits. As the IPAQ measurement provides information about the patterns of total physical activity and inactivity, the findings indicate possibilities for targeted health promotion efforts.

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Correspondence to M. Sjöström.

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Sjöström, M., Oja, P., Hagströmer, M. et al. Health-enhancing physical activity across European Union countries: the Eurobarometer study. J Public Health 14, 291–300 (2006).

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  • International Physical Activity Questionnaire
  • IPAQ
  • Sedentariness
  • Walking