Abstract The global transition to current low levels of habitual physical activity among children and adolescents began in the second half of the last century. Low physical activity harms health in both the short term (during childhood and adolescence) and long term (during adulthood). In turn, low physical activity could limit progress towards several sustainable development goals, undermine noncommunicable disease prevention, delay physical and mental health recovery from the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, increase health-care costs and hinder responses to climate change. However, despite the importance of physical activity, public health surveillance among children and adolescents is very limited globally and low levels of physical activity in children is not on the public health agenda in many countries, irrespective of their level of economic development. This article details proposals for improvements in global public health surveillance of physical activity from birth to adolescence based on recent systematic reviews, international collaborations and World Health Organization guidelines and strategies. Empirical examples from several countries illustrate how improved surveillance of physical activity can lead to public health initiatives. Moreover, better surveillance raises awareness of the extent of physical inactivity, thereby making an invisible problem visible, and can lead to greater capacity in physical activity policy and practice. The time has arrived for a step change towards more systematic physical activity surveillance from infancy onwards that could help inform and inspire changes in public health policy and practice globally.
Mark S. Tremblay
Senior Scientist, CHEO Research Institute