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ASU health professor to help update global physical activity guidelines

matt buman

Matthew Buman

October 08, 2019

The World Health Organization has appointed Matthew Buman, an associate professor in Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions, to help update its Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health.

First developed in 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations help health policymakers worldwide create guidelines for their own nations on optimal levels of physical activity needed to prevent noncommunicable diseases. Buman is part of an international team of scientists that will write new guidelines based on a review of the latest evidence about the impact of physical activity on health outcomes, including mortality and the risk for chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. 

The team met in Geneva this summer to develop a process for updating the guidelines. Team members are using this process now as they examine existing evidence over the next few months. They will reconvene in February to discuss the scientific review and craft the new guidelines, which will be released sometime in 2020.

Buman did similar work for the U.S. government when he served as one of nine special consultants to the advisory committee that developed the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report, which informed the update of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans released in late 2018. In the 2018 American guidelines, which were themselves an update from 2008, scientists for the first time acknowledged the effect of sedentary behavior — or sitting — on health. Buman said the evidence on sedentary behavior is also being weighed for the WHO global guidelines.

“We’re looking at all of the same evidence examined during the U.S. guidelines review plus much more,” Buman said. “In 2010, the WHO reviewed only physical activity evidence, so the 2020 update will likely have statements about sedentary behavior in addition to statements about physical activity.” 

These recommendations are not meant to enforce uniform standards about physical activity or sedentary behavior for all nations. “They’re meant to be a roadmap for countries, particularly those that do not have the resources to develop their own guidelines. Health policymakers all over the world use them to create policies and benchmarks for their nations,” Buman said. The WHO also uses them to decide how to allocate financial and technical support to countries for health promotion.

The overall goal of this WHO initiative is to promote physical activity with the aim of reducing inactivity 15% by 2030. Learn more about its Global Action Plan on Physical Activity.