What could happen by 2030?
The proportion of Australians estimated to be in each physical activity category in 2030 under each scenario is shown in Figure 4. These categories are defined in weekly metabolic equivalent of tasks units (see Understanding METs box).
What are the physical activity MET categories?
The physical activity categories are defined in terms of weekly MET-mins as below:
- Sedentary: Less than 600 MET-mins per week
- Low: 600 – 2,399 MET-mins per week
- Moderate: 2,400 – 4,199 MET-mins per week
- High: Greater than 4,200 MET-mins per week
These categories were defined for this study to broadly indicate the level of risk associated with diseases linked to physical inactivity. For example, sedentary levels of activity put a person at greater risk of developing coronary heart disease than low levels of activity. However, like BMI, health risk develops gradually along a continuous scale of weekly activity where individual risk differs even within the same MET-mins category.
In 2017–18, 25% of Australians reported sedentary levels of weekly activity and 18% reported high levels of weekly activity. Under the stable scenario, the proportions of the population in each physical activity category would be the same in 2030.
If everyone in the population at increased risk of disease due to physical inactivity (those with sedentary, low and moderate physical activity levels) did the equivalent of an extra 15 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (for example, cycling), 5 days a week, the proportion of the population expected to report sedentary levels of physical activity could reduce to 10%. Under this scenario, 21% of the population could be expected to report high levels of activity (2 percentage points more than the stable scenario).
If those at risk did the equivalent of an extra 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, 5 days a week, the proportion of Australians reporting high levels of physical activity could be expected to increase to 23% in 2030, with 0% sedentary.
When looking at physical activity among males and females separately, different patterns emerge. For males, the proportion of the population in the sedentary category in 2017–18 was 22%, with 25% in the high activity category. For females, 28% of the population reported sedentary levels of activity and 12% reported high activity.
Large differences are also seen across age groups. In 2017–18, 37% of Australians aged 65 and over reported sedentary levels of weekly activity, compared with 21% for those aged under 35. Only 8% of those over 65 reported high levels of weekly activity, compared with 24% for those aged under 35.
In the scenario where the population does the equivalent of an additional 15 minutes of moderate-intensity activity,
5 days a week, the proportion of those aged over 65 reporting sedentary levels of activity could reduce by 26 percentage points, compared with a 13 percentage-point reduction for those aged under 35.
Figure 4: Prevalence of physical activity in 2030, by activity categories and scenario
This figure presents stacked bar charts of the proportion of the population aged 20 years or older within each category of weekly activity levels, by scenario. There is also a filter that allows the user to select different age groups and sexes to present.
There are four categories of activity levels used to categorise the population in terms of MET-minutes: sedentary (fewer than 600 MET-minutes per week), low (between 600 and 2,400 MET-minutes per week), moderate (between 2,400 and 4,200 MET-minutes per week), and high (greater than or equal to 4,200 MET-minutes per week). See technical notes for further details regarding metabolic equivalent of tasks.
In 2017–18, the stable scenario, 25% of persons reported sedentary levels of weekly activity, and 18% reported high levels of weekly activity. If the population at risk were to increase their moderate-intensity levels of activity by an extra hour per week, 15% would be expected to report sedentary levels of activity, and 23% for high levels of activity.
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Previous analyses by the AIHW indicate that the prevalence of insufficient physical activity in adults slightly decreased between 2007–08 and 2017–18 from 69% to 65% (AIHW 2020). These figures represent the proportion of Australians meeting the guidelines for physical activity (based on self-reported leisure activity), though rates have not changed significantly since 2011–12. However, if these trends were maintained to 2030, this may result in improvements to burden attributable to physical inactivity. Due to data limitations, a trend scenario in this study was not available to inform suitable comparisons with other scenarios. See the Technical notes section for further information.