"Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health", Guthold warned.
Physical activity - which includes all everyday movement, not just exercise - lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, some forms of cancer and dementia, and improves mental health and weight control. Levels of insufficient physical activity are more than twice as high in high-income countries compared to low-income countries, and increased by 5% in high-income countries between 2001 and 2016.
Across regions, many individual countries recorded large differences in insufficient activity between women and men, such as 40 vs. 16 percent in Bangladesh, 31 vs. 14 percent in Eritrea, 44 vs. 25 percent in India, 48 vs. 32 percent in the USA and 40 vs. 32 percent in the UK.
The authors arrived at these findings after pooling data from 358 population-based surveys across 168 countries, representing some 1.9 million people.
The study further suggests that if these levels of inactivity continue, the global physical activity targets for 2025 won't be achieved.
Participants were asked to self-report their activity levels at home, at work, and during travel and leisure time.
From 2001-2016, substantial changes in insufficient physical activity levels were recorded in multiple regions.
Adults aged 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. "We describe levels of insufficient physical activity across countries and estimate global and regional trends", read the report authored by Regina Guthold, Gretchen A Stevens, Leanne M Riley and Fiona C Bull.
Worldwide the prevalence of inactivity was 27.5 percent in 2016.
Besides, they said cultural norms, traditional roles, or lack of social and community support might lead to reduced participation in physical activity among girls and women.
The highest levels in 2016 were in women in Latin America and the Caribbean (43·7%), south Asia (43·0%), and high-income western countries (42·3%).
Women were less active than men (23.4 percent women compared to 31.7 percent men).
Overall, Australian women are less physically active than Australian men - which reflects worldwide trends.
"WHO admits that the current strategies are not working and that new tactics are needed to improve increasing physical activity in all countries", added Thompson, who is also a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.
- Country with the highest level of insufficient activity: Kuwait (67 percent).