Physical activity crisis? Why not be more like Uganda and Mozambique?

A new study on “Worldwide trends in insufficient physical activity” has been published in a journal. It continues to confirm what many of us understand already, high income countries tend to have high rates of physical inactivity. Low income countries tend to have low rates of inactivity.

This BBC article pointed out that two of the most active countries are Uganda and Mozambique. Another BBC article explored the Uganda situation in a bit more detail. It asked “So what is Uganda getting right? … People in rural Uganda, where most of the population lives, are very active on their farms, says the BBC’s Patience Atuhaire. But, she says, in urban areas people are becoming more sedentary, especially as they get wealthier.” Evocative imagery accompanies the news item:

farmerbikes road

All of this leads me to ask three awkward, but necessary questions:

  1. Why have I never seen these countries used as positive templates for physical activity?
  2. Might it be something to do with current life expectancy in these countries? Uganda’s average life span is about 59 years. Mozambique’s current average is close to 55 years. [To contrast, Monaco is about 89.5 years, Japan is about 85 years, and Sweden is about 82.5 years].
  3. So, to increase life expectancy, would it be reasonable to encourage highly urbanized living, even if it means decreasing population PA rates in these areas?


Joe Piggin

PS: The political nature of this issue (how people should be organised in society and what they should do), does remind me  of something I wrote 11 years ago, available here. I critiqued the strange New Zealand policy of aiming to be “the most active country in the world”. Of course not only did New Zealand never have a chance at the title, but also the goal itself is morally problematic. The implicit rationale of trying to be more active than another country is that you want another country to be less active, and therefore, less “healthy” than your own. This, I argue in academic parlance, is crazy.

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