Global prevalence of physical activity for children and adolescents; inconsistencies, research gaps, and recommendations: a narrative review



One of the strategic actions identified in the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity (PA) 2018–2030 is the enhancement of data systems and capabilities at national levels to support regular population surveillance of PA. Although national and international standardized surveillance of PA among children and adolescents has increased in recent years, challenges for the global surveillance of PA persist. The aims of this paper were to: (i) review, compare, and discuss the methodological inconsistencies in children and adolescents’ physical activity prevalence estimates from intercontinental physical activity surveillance initiatives; (ii) identify methodological limitations, surveillance and research gaps.


Intercontinental physical activity surveillance initiatives for children and adolescents were identified by experts and through non-systematic literature searches. Prevalence of meeting PA guidelines by country, gender, and age were extracted when available. A tool was created to assess the quality of the included initiatives. Methods and PA prevalence were compared across data/studies and against the methodological/validity/translation differences.


Eight intercontinental initiatives were identified as meeting the selection criteria. Methods and PA definition inconsistencies across and within included initiatives were observed, resulting in different estimated national prevalence of PA, and initiatives contradicting each other’s cross-country comparisons. Three findings were consistent across all eight initiatives: insufficient level of PA of children and adolescents across the world; lower levels of PA among girls; and attenuation of PA levels with age. Resource-limited countries, younger children, children and adolescents not attending school, with disability or chronic conditions, and from rural areas were generally under/not represented.


There are substantial inconsistencies across/within included initiatives, resulting in varying estimates of the PA situation of children and adolescents at the global, regional and national levels. The development of a new PA measurement instrument that would be globally accepted and harmonized is a global health priority to help improve the accuracy and reliability of global surveillance.

Lead Researchers

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  1. Mark S. Tremblay

    Senior Scientist, CHEO Research Institute

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