Director-General's Office

Launch of the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity More Active People for a Healthier World

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Football City, Lisbon, Portugal
4 June 2018

Portuguese National Healthcare Service (SNS)

Your Excellency Antonio Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal,

Your Excellency Adalberto Campos Fernandes, Minister of Health,

Your Excellency Tiago Brandão Rodrigues, Minister of Education,

Mr Fernando Gomes, President of the Portuguese Football Association,

Mr Fernando Santos, Manager of the Portuguese men’s football team,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank you from my heart for hosting this event in this most beautiful city of Lisbon. It’s a real honour for me to be here to launch WHO’s Global Action Plan on Physical Activity.

I’d particularly like to thank the Prime Minister for his leadership on this issue, and on other health issues, such as the new anti-tobacco campaign in Portugal.

Last week we celebrated World No Tobacco Day, to call for governments everywhere to step up the fight against tobacco. I’m pleased to see you are doing that here in Portugal. WHO estimates that about 30% of men and 13% of women in Portugal smoke.

While smoking is reducing among men, there is no decline among women. We see a similar trend in many European countries.

There is therefore an urgent need for tobacco campaigns focused on women and girls.

So I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health for this campaign. I trust it will be very successful, and I look forward to seeing many similar campaigns across Europe, like that of Portugal.

I would also like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to Antonio Arnaut, the father of Portugal’s National Health Service, who passed away a couple of weeks ago.

WHO was established 70 years ago on the conviction that health is a human right for all people. This is a conviction that Mr Arnaut shared, and the people of Portugal owe him a great debt of gratitude. And it is a strong commitment to put it in its Constitution and to deliver the National Health Service to its people since 1979.

I honour his memory.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Although we are gradually winning the war against tobacco, around the world we are facing another health threat that will have equally devastating consequences.

I’m talking, of course, about the lack of physical activity.

Around the world, not enough people are active. One in four adults and 4 out of 5 adolescents are not getting enough exercise.

Too much time is spent on screens that keep young people sedentary, engaging in the virtual world more than the real world.

For many people, modern life involves a lot of sitting down, whether that’s driving to work, sitting in an office all day, and sitting in front of the television in the evening.

The consequences of this are that in many countries, the number of people who are overweight or obese is increasing.

We must get the world moving.

Physical activity is good for health and can prevent heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

It’s also good for mental and social health – and it’s fun too!

Sport can help to bring communities – and even nations – together. The World Cup is a great example of that.

But we need to make sure that people do not just watch sport. We need to make sure people get off their couches and participate.

Physical activity helps to prevent heart attacks, strokes and some cancers, which are the world’s leading causes of death. It helps manage body weight and prevent diabetes.

But physical activity has many other benefits – it also promotes mental health and improves social cohesion.

It’s important for children, to establish healthy habits.

But it’s also important for older adults, to have strength and flexibility to avoid falls and maintain social networks.

In fact, physical activity has been described as the best medicine you can take.

The good news is that physical activity can be done every day in very easy way, but we must make these opportunities safe and accessible to all people.

In too many places, simple activities like walking and cycling are dangerous. Half of all road deaths globally are pedestrians and cyclists.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m delighted to be here today to launch WHO’s new Global Action Plan on Physical Activity, which aims to increase participation in physical activity around the world by 15% by 2030.

This new plan consists of policy recommendations in 20 areas that are designed to create more active societies.

It recommends that countries, cities and communities design programs and urban environments to promote safe walking and cycling;

to create walking policies that give priority to pedestrians, not cars;

to improve access to parks and other recreation spaces;

and to encourage people of all ages to participate in sport, active play and recreation.

It also includes important recommendations for the way we train health professionals.

Too often we train doctors, nurses and other health workers just to treat disease. We must also make sure we teach them to promote health.

Every time a health worker sees a patient, they should be able to provide evidence-based advice on how to lead a healthier life.

I’m very impressed that here in Portugal, you have started empowering doctors to prescribe physical activity. This is what WHO calls a “best buy” because of the impact it has for the investment needed. We encourage you to expand this programme. But creating a more active society is not an issue that can be solved by the health sector alone.

It is not an issue that can be solved by the education sector alone, or the transport sector alone, although actions are needed in each sector.

It takes political commitment at the highest level, and it takes action from all sectors, in a coordinated way.

That’s why the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity puts a heavy emphasis on a whole-of-government approach – working together across sectors from the national level to the local level.

It won’t happen overnight, but it won’t happen by accident either. We need careful planning, and patience.

The best place to start is with the programs that are proven to work, like public education campaigns, backed up with community programs.

And in fact, that’s exactly what you are doing here in Portugal. I congratulate His Excellency the Prime Minister and the whole government for your national campaign to promote physical activity. Once again, the World Cup is a great opportunity for that. But you don’t need to be a professional athlete to be active. It’s the small choices we make each and every day that can help us to get healthy, and to stay healthy.

Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Ride a bicycle to work instead of driving a car.

Take your dog for a walk.

As political leaders, our job is to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

That’s what our new Global Action Plan is all about.

I’m delighted that we are not only launching the plan today, but also our global campaign to promote physical activity, called “Let’s Be Active: Everyone, Everywhere, Everyday”.

But ladies and gentlemen, there is always more we can do. So today I have three requests.

First, my brother Fernando Santos, you and your team have tremendous influence. I encourage you to use your global profile to get more young people playing football, or any sports. We need to focus on girls of all ages, and boys aged between 14 and 25, because they are the ones dropping out. WHO would be delighted to work with you on that.

Second, all football clubs can do more to reach into the communities that love them. Football clubs and football associations must see fans not just as spectators, but as active participants. I encourage the Portuguese Football Association to open your clubs for community football events, as many clubs across Europe have done. This can be very effective for reaching middle-aged men in poor communities, who played football in their youth but have become inactive.

Third, I ask His Excellency the Prime Minister to continue his leadership to promote physical activity across all sectors – in education, in the sports sector and in the health sector. As I said, it takes political leadership at the highest level.

This morning I was impressed with what I saw being done in the health system, particularly primary health care, and with children through education, and the media campaigns to promote better health and physical activity. Strong primary health care, education and media campaigns are a perfect recipe to transfer responsibility to the communities so they can take ownership themselves. Let’s not consider our communities as recipients. They can lead themselves.

Thank you all for your commitment and dedication. By working together, we can get the world moving and create a healthier future for our children. Portugal can be a model in this movement.

Unfortunately, Ethiopia didn’t qualify for the World Cup, but I am proud to say that I will be supporting Portugal!

I wish you success in the World Cup, and success in building a more active Portugal.

Thank you so much. Muito obrigado!

More active people for a healthier world