Physical activity

1. Key messages

In 2018, less than one third (30%) of the adult population (18 years and older) met the WHO recommendations of doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week. More men (36%) comply than women (25%). Residents of Flanders (37%) and people with tertiary education (38%) were more likely to meet the recommendations.
Among children aged 11 to 18 years, one boy out of five (20%) and one girl out of eight (13%), met the WHO recommendations of performing at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day.

2. Background

Lack of physical activity is one of the leading risk factors in terms of both morbidity and mortality for a series of chronic conditions, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes. Moreover, regular physical activity, when reaching a certain threshold, can have significant benefits for health. The World Health Organization (WHO) [1] recommends that adults aged 18-64 perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week. They further recommend that children and teenagers aged 5-17 perform at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day.

To date there is no consensus on the method for estimating levels of physical activity based on self-reported surveys: the use of different instruments and cut-off points for classifying the levels of activity make international comparisons difficult. In the 2001 to 2013 waves of the Belgian Health Interview Survey (HIS), physical activity was measured with the short version of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ). Since 2018, the EHIS-PAQ questionnaire is used as recommended by the European Health Interview Survey (EHIS) whereby time trend analysis is no longer possible, but international comparability is enhanced.

In this report, we evaluate physical activity among adults based on the share of adults meeting the WHO recommendations to do at least 150 minutes of at least moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, based on the self-reported data from the Belgian Health Interview Survey (HIS).

Physical activity among adolescents is evaluated based on the share of adolescents aged 11-18 who meet the WHO recommendations to perform at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day, based on self-reported data from the Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey.

3. Physical activity in adults

Situation in 2018

Belgium

In Belgium in 2018, 30% of the population aged 18 years and over did at least 150 minutes of at least moderate aerobic physical activity per week. More men (36%) than women (25%) met the recommendations. The prevalence was the highest in the youngest age group (47%) and the lowest in the highest age group (12%).

Proportion of the population aged 18 years and over who do at least 150 minutes per week of at least moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity by age and sex, Belgium, 2018
Source: Health Interview Survey, Sciensano [2]
Regional differences

More people were meeting the physical activity recommendations in Flanders (43% in men and 34% in women) than in Brussels (29% and 18%, respectively) and Wallonia (27% and 15%, respectively).

Proportion of the population aged 18 years and over who do at least 150 minutes per week of at least moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity by sex and region, Belgium, 2018
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano [2]

Socio-economic disparities

After age standardization, people with tertiary education were more likely to meet the recommendations (38%) than people with an upper secondary education (26%), a lower secondary education (22%), and primary education (12%).

Age-adjusted proportion of the population aged 18 years and over who do at least 150 minutes per week of at least moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity by educational level, Belgium, 2018
Source: Own calculation based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano [2]

4. Physical activity in adolescents

Situation in 2018

Belgium

In Belgium in 2018, more boys (20%) than girls (13%) between 11 and 18 yearsold met the WHO recommendations to perform at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day. A decrease is observed with ageing, with young adolescents (aged 11-12 years old) more likely to be sufficiently physically active than older adolescents.

Proportion of adolescents 11-18 years old who perform at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day, by age and sex, Belgium, 2018
Source: Own calculation, unweighted Belgian average based on HBSC French Community [3] and HBSC Flemish Community [4]
Regional differences

More adolescents in the Flemish Community (21% of boys and 14% of girls) met the WHO recommendations than in the French Community (18% of boys and 11% of girls).

Trends

In the Flemish Community, the proportion of boys meeting the WHO recommendations increased between 2014 and 2018, while in the French Community, it decreased. These opposite evolutions led to a stable Belgian average.

In the Flemish Community, the proportion of girls meeting the WHO recommendations increased between 2014 and 2018, while in the French Community, it remained stable. Both evolutions combined led to an increasing Belgian average.

  • Boys
  • Girls

Proportion of boys aged 11-18 years old who perform at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day, by Community, Belgium, 2014-2018
Source: HBSC French Community [3] and HBSC Flemish Community [4]

Proportion of girls aged 11-18 years old who perform at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day, by Community, Belgium, 2014-2018
Source: HBSC French Community [3] and HBSC Flemish Community [4]

Socio-economic disparities

According to the HBSC report, spending at least 60 minutes a day on physical activity was generally associated with high family affluence. In the Flemish Community, boys and girls from the highest socio-economic group were respectively 2 times and 1.7 times more likely to meet the recommendations than boys and girls from the lowest socio-economic group. In the French Community, a socio-economic (SE) gradient was only observed in girls, with girls from the higher socio-economic group being 1.6 times more likely to meet the recommendations than girls from the lowest socio-economic group.

Some regional differences were also observed by SE group: boys from the low family affluence group were 1.5 times more likely to meet the recommendation in the French community than in the Flemish Community, while on the contrary, boys from high family affluence were 1.3 times more likely to meet the recommendation in the Flemish than in the French community. Among girls, a same low versus high gradient was observed in both communities.

Proportion of adolescents aged 11-18 years old spending at least 60 minutes on moderate – to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily, by sex, communities, and family affluence group, Belgium, 2018
Source: HBSC International report [5] 

International comparison

The HBSC international report 2018 reveals that for all countries considered, the proportion of young people meeting the physical activity recommendation is quite weak, ranging from 7% to 24% in boys, and from 4% to 14% in girls. Keeping in mind the fact that the situation is worrying everywhere, Belgium ranks not too bad among the EU-15 countries. With 18.0% of 15-year-olds Belgian boys (ranking 6th) and 10.5% of the Belgian girls (ranking 4th) meeting the recommendations, Belgium compares favorably to the respective 16.1% male and 8.3% female EU-15 average.

  • Boys
  • Girls

Proportion of boys aged 15 years old spending at least 60 minutes on moderate – to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily, by country of residence (EU-15), 2018
Source: HBSC International report [5] 

Proportion of girls aged 15 years old spending at least 60 minutes on moderate – to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily, by country of residence (EU-15), 2018
Source: HBSC International report [5] 

5. Read more

View the metadata for this indicator

HISIA: Interactive Analysis of the Belgian Health Interview Survey

Health-Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey - French Community

Health-Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey - Flemish Community

Definitions

Age-adjusted proportion
Since lifestyle factors are strongly influenced by age, comparisons among regions and educational levels need to be standardized by age to have a similar age structure. 
EHIS-PAQ questionnaire 
The EHIS-PAQ is a domain-specific physical activity questionnaire compounded of eight questions. It takes into account physical activity related to work, going from and to places, and sport. The EHIS-PAQ was tested in different regions and cultural settings in Europe. It allows estimating the health-enhancing physical activity recommendation defined by the WHO.
Performing at least 150 minutes of at least moderate aerobic physical activity throughout the week
To calculate this indicator in the HIS, three questions were asked to the participants to assess the time they spend bicycling to get to and from places and the time they spend on sport leisure activities.
Performing at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day
To calculate this indicator in the HBSC, the participants were asked how many days over the past week they had been physically active for a total of at least 60 minutes.

References

  1. Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Genève: WHO; 2010. https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/global-PA-recs-2010.pdf
  2. Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001-2018. https://his.wiv-isp.be/fr/SitePages/Rapports_complets_2018.aspx
  3. HBSC French Community, ULB, 2018. http://sipes.ulb.ac.be/
  4. HBSC Flemish Community, UGent, 2018. http://www.jongeren-en-gezondheid.ugent.be/
  5. Spotlight on adolescent health and well-being. Findings from the 2017/2018 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey in Europe and Canada. International report., WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2020. https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/Life-stages/child-and-adolescent-health/health-behaviour-in-school-aged-children-hbsc/publications/2020/spotlight-on-adolescent-health-and-well-being.-findings-from-the-20172018-health-behaviour-in-school-aged-children-hbsc-survey-in-europe-and-canada.-international-report.-volume-2.-key-data