Two things worry me on a daily basis:

  1. For the first time in history, a growing proportion of today’s children have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
  2. This is the most physically inactive generation in history.

A careful look at the facts suggests a compelling case that the two are inextricably linked.

Physical inactivity has become “normal” in almost every modern and modernizing economy. It shows up in ways we don’t question: machines to do our moving for us.

There’s an unspoken epidemic of physical inactivity that needs urgent attention. The health, happiness, productivity, and quality and longevity of our children’s lives are at stake.

It strikes me that something so fundamental to the success of the human race is so marginalized, so underinvested at every level: Physical education budget cuts, family time spent almost exclusively in sedentary activities, 10-hour work days sitting at a desk and national physical activity plans with minimal government attention. The level of prioritization suggests a massive underestimation of the problem and an underestimation of the potential opportunity.

New research shows that, if no action is taken, half of all Americans and Chinese are projected to be physically inactive, along with one-third of the British and Brazilian populations by 2030. That’s about 1 billion people.

Physical inactivity causes more deaths now than smoking: 5.3 million deaths and 5 million annually, respectively. In 2010, the global cost of the five leading non-communicable diseases – cancer, diabetes, mental illness, heart disease and respiratory disease – totalled US$ 6.2 trillion. All of these are linked to physical inactivity.

While the statistics are staggering, the solutions are simple. Anyone with a body has the answer.

After two years of aggregating the research and innovating a way forward, more than 30 expert organizations, including Nike, the American College of Sports Medicine and the International Council of Sports Science and Physical Education introduced a framework for action called Designed to Move (http://www.designedtomove.org).

The collective vision is one of future generations running, jumping and kicking to reach their greatest potential. And there are two “asks” to achieve it:

  • Create early positive experiences for children in physically activity
  • Integrate physical activity into everyday life

Whether you are a Member of the World Economic Forum, a world leader, a CEO, a parent or a student, you can start with delivering on the two asks.

Physical activity is a fundamental, powerful and cross-cutting solution to a number of issues facing our children, nations and economies. The time to move is now.

Author: Lisa MacCallum Carter is the Managing Director of the Access to Sport organization at Nike Inc. After 11 years working across various business units at Nike, Lisa was asked to explore Nike’s sport-for-social-change proposition. She and Nike are now committed to catalysing multistakeholder relationships that will reverse the dire trend of physical inactivity around the world. She was also named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2012.

Photo Credit: Designed to Move report