The National Programme for Nutrition and Health, or PNNS, aims to improve the state of the nation’s health by acting on diet and physical activity, which are major determinants of nutrition. ANSES was asked to investigate these issues by the Directorate General for Health, with a view to updating the PNNS's nutritional guidelines, mainly with regard to physical activity. The Agency is today publishing its opinion and report focusing specifically on physical activity.
The findings: insufficient practice of physical activity
Physical activity is often thought to refer only to the practice of sport, whereas it actually encompasses all forms of daily physical activity, whether work or leisure related.
The Agency stresses that the scientific data demonstrate the favourable effects of physical activity in preventing chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, etc.). The short-, medium- and long-term benefits are reflected in systemic, hormonal and metabolic adaptations, with preventive effects that concern all the components of health (physical, mental and social).
In France, however, the studies currently available show that irrespective of the age groups, the physical activity of the population is considered insufficient in light of the World Health Organization's recommendations.
In addition, for estimating sedentarity, the time spent sitting in front of a screen (television, video games, computer) is the most commonly used indicator in studies, despite it only accounting for part of the actual sedentary time. Outside of working time, adults thus spend between 3h20 and 4h40 daily sitting in front of a screen. Children and adolescents aged between 3 and 17 years spend more than two hours daily in front of a screen, and for people over the age of 65, this figure reaches three hours.
Lastly, sleep time is insufficient in France, especially in adolescence when sleep disorders are frequent and are linked to health problems in the long-term. Practising physical activity helps improve the quality and quantity of sleep, and enhances diurnal wakefulness. The positive effects of physical activity on sleep appear as soon as practice begins, and become long-lasting when practice is regular.
The Agency’s recommendations
In light of these findings, ANSES recommends:
promoting the practice of physical activity of different types (cardiorespiratory, muscle strengthening, flexibility) and identifying all the opportunities for practice at any time of the day, it being understood that the activity should not be limited to the practice of sport: moving around, carrying a load, going up or down stairs, being active in the home, etc. are all ways of practising physical activity;
encouraging the reduction of sedentary behaviour, by reducing the total time spent sitting on a daily basis and by interrupting extended sedentary time with active breaks; the concomitance of an increase in physical activity and a reduction in accumulated continuous sedentary time will produce the greatest effects on health;
fostering the practice of physical activity and the reduction of sedentarity by providing environments conducive to their practice: workplace, school time, transport and travel, etc.
In its opinion, ANSES proposes a series of tailored, accessible recommendations for each population group: children and adolescents, adults, the elderly, women during pregnancy, etc. The aim of these recommendations is to enable the adoption of an active lifestyle from a very young age, in a favourable environment, while reducing the situations of inequality observed in physical activity and inactivity.
The Agency stresses that the implementation of these recommendations encounters serious obstacles, mainly concerning town and country planning (insufficiently developed cycle and pedestrian routes, etc.), modes of transport, and the organisation of time and spaces in the workplace and at school. The development of spaces reserved for pedestrians and cyclists, the promotion of modes of public transport, the organisation of working time and school time, the increase in the time spent engaging in physical activity at school would, in particular, help promote the practice of physical activities.
The Agency also recommends supporting actions regarding training and information for health professionals, and professionals in physical activity and sport, in particular on the health effects of physical activity and sedentarity. They could then better assist the population in implementing the Agency's recommendations through tailored advice (risks, the need for a gradual approach, objectives).