An analysis of data from the smartphones of more than 700,000 people by researchers from Stanford University has uncovered just how active (or rather inactive, as the case may be) people around the world really are.
Leveraging 68 million days’ worth of minute-by-minute data, the researchers were able to construct a map of the world outlining the most active and least active countries based on the average number of steps the people living in them took on a daily basis.
Most modern smartphones have a built-in accelerometer that can be used to track the number of steps taken each day by a person and the researchers used anonymous data from people who were using the Argus activity monitoring app.
Hong Kong topped the results with an average of 6,880 steps a day, while Indonesia was in last place with just 3,513. The average number of daily steps worldwide was 4,961.
Even though people in the UK were above the global average, with an average of 5,444 steps a day, the findings still highlight how many individuals are well below the suggested target of 10,000 steps a day.
In addition to allowing a global activity map to be created, the study also uncovered intriguing details that could help tackle obesity.
Publishing the results of their study in the journal Nature, the researchers say their findings provide important insights that could improve people’s health.
For example, the researchers say daily steps actually appear to be less important than first thought when it comes to obesity levels.
In fact, they found that the key ingredient was “activity inequality” – the difference between the fittest and the laziest members of a given society.
The bigger the activity inequality, the higher the rates of obesity.
One of the researchers, Tim Althoff, said: “For instance, Sweden had one of the smallest gaps between activity rich and activity poor… it also had one of the lowest rates of obesity.”
And while the U.S. and Mexico both have similar numbers of average steps, the U.S. has both higher activity inequality and obesity levels. Countries like Japan have low obesity and low activity inequality levels.
Scott Delp, a professor of bioengineering and one of the researchers involved, said the study is 1,000 times larger than any previously conducted before it on human movement.
“There have been wonderful health surveys done, but our new study provides data from more countries, many more subjects, and tracks people’s activity on an ongoing basis.
“This opens the door to new ways of doing science at a much larger scale than we have been able to do before,” he said.
The NHS currently suggests that people aim for 150 minutes of physical activity each week and has posed a 10,000 steps a day challenge to those living in the UK.
Private Medical Insurance providers are constantly striving to get their members to engage in more physical activity by adding in incentives through their overall benefit strategy, with the aim that those members who engage in the programme and are physically more active make less claims than those that are not as physically active.
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