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Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2012 Sep 11;9:110. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-9-110.

The influence of the macro-environment on physical activity: a multilevel analysis of 38 countries worldwide.

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  • 1Department of Public Health, Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.



As indicated by the ANGELO framework and similar models, various environmental factors influence population levels of physical activity (PA). To date attention has focused on the micro-level environment, while evidence on the macro-level environment remains scarce and mostly limited to high-income countries. This study aims to investigate whether environmental factors at macro-level are associated with PA among a broader range of countries.


Data from the World Health Survey (WHS) was used to analyze 177,035 adults from 38 (mostly low and middle income) countries. The International Physical Activity Questionnaire-Short Form (IPAQ-S) was used to measure PA. Respondents were classified as active or inactive for vigorous PA, moderate PA and walking. Multilevel logistic regression was performed to assess associations between macro-level environmental factors and the prevalence of PA, with control for individual-level socioeconomic factors.


The prevalence of PA varied widely between countries and types of PA (5.0%-93.8%). A negative association was found between gross domestic product and PA, odds ratios for men were 0.76 (95% CI: 0.65-0.89) for moderate PA and 0.79 (95% CI: 0.63-0.98) for walking. A higher temperature was associated with less PA (all types) and higher urbanization was associated with less vigorous and moderate PA. More gender equality was also associated with more walking for women. Governmental functioning and literacy rate were not found to be associated with any type of PA.


This exploratory study indicates that factors such as climate, economic development and cultural factors are determinants of the level of overall PA at national levels. This underlines the suggestion that the macro-environment should be regarded as an important influence on PA.

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