Overweight and now also amongst Europe’s most physically inactive

75% of Maltese respondents to the Eurobarometer survey on physical activity said they do no physical exercise or play sport

The Maltese are slobs, but beyond the repeated confirmation that its children are overweight, new EU data now shows the Maltese are the second most European nation that does the least kind of sport or physical activity.

This lethal combination of inactivity was confirmed in a new Eurobarometer survey carried out over December 2013 that shows that 75% of Maltese respondents “never exercise or play sport”, coming second after Bulgaria (78%), and followed by Portugal (64%), Romania (60%) and Italy (60%).

Generally speaking, citizens in the Northern part of the EU are the most physically active. The proportion that exercises or plays sport at least once a week is 70% in Sweden, 68% in Denmark, 66% in Finland, 58% in the Netherlands and 54% in Luxembourg.

The lowest levels of participation are clustered in the southern EU.

In contrast, 41% of Europeans exercise or play sport at least once a week, while an important proportion of EU citizens (59%) never or seldom do so.

The figures have not changed substantially since 2009. However, the proportion that never exercises or plays sport has increased from 39% to 42%.

Indeed, the Maltese doing no form of physical activity increased by a staggering 37 points, to 75%; while those who do regular sports decreased by 12 pints to just 5% since 2009.

Those who never do sports include both men and women (79% and 84% respectively), are most probably aged over 40 in the case of men but over 25 in the case of women, and their occupations tend to be manual labour, housepersons, the unemployed, and the retired.

“Managers” and “students” had inactive rates less than the 75% average, of 55% and 62% respectively.

Lack of time is the most common reason for not practising sport across the EU. On a country level, the proportions giving this answer are the highest in Malta (56%), Romania (53%), the Czech Republic (52%), Sweden (50%), Luxembourg (50%) and Cyprus (49%). The lowest proportions are in the Netherlands (29%), Austria (31%),  Finland (32%) and Portugal (33%).

EU snapshot of physical inactivity

Analysis by individual countries shows that respondents in Estonia (49%), Latvia (49%), the Czech Republic (46%), and Lithuania (46%) are more likely to do moderate physical activity for more than an hour; whereas this amounts to a quarter of respondents or less in Poland (19%), Ireland (22%), Finland (22%), Portugal (23%), Cyprus (24%) and Malta (25%).

Malta was also the second-highest country (30%) whose respondents were more likely to spend 2.5 hours or less sitting down, following Portugal (33%), and followed by Slovenia (28%), Romania (27%) and Hungary (25%).

In the following countries, at least one fifth of respondents even do such activity for two hours or more: Latvia (26%), the Czech  Republic (20%), and Lithuania (20%).

Conversely, respondents who are more likely to do moderate physical activity for less than an hour are in Finland (78%), Ireland (78%), Portugal (77%), Poland (77%), Cyprus (76%) and Malta (73%).

Overall, men in the EU exercise, play sport or engage in other physical activity  more than women. However, this disparity is particularly marked in the 15-24 age group, with young men tending to exercise or play sport on a regular basis considerably more than young women (74% vs 55%). The amount of regular activity that people do tends to decrease with age, notably 71% of women and 70% of men in the 55+ age groups never or seldom exercise or play sport.

As for the levels of engagement in physical activity within a week, 54% of all respondents did not do any vigorous activity (-4 percentage points ±pp- compared to 2002) and 44% did not do any moderate physical activity (+3 pp).

Moreover, 13% of EU citizens did not walk for at least 10 minutes at a time on a given day within a week (-4 pp). In addition, on a usual day, about two-thirds (69%) of respondents spend between 2.5 and 8.5 hours sitting (+5 pp), while at other extremes, 11% sit for more than 8.5 hours and 17% 2.5 hours or less.

Sport or physical activity takes place in a wide range of locations, most commonly in parks and outdoors (40%), at home (36%) or on the journey between home and school, work or shops (25%).

A shortage of time is by far the main reason given for not practising sport more regularly (42%). Other factors mentioned are a lack of motivation or interest  (20%), having a disability or illness (13%) or that it is too expensive (10%). In  2009 lack of time was also mentioned (45%) as the main reason that prevented  people from doing sport more often.

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