Variation in population levels of physical activity in European adults according to cross-European studies: a systematic literature review within DEDIPAC

Anne Loyen*, Linde Van Hecke, Maite Verloigne, Ingrid Hendriksen, Jeroen Lakerveld, Jostein Steene-Johannessen, Anne Vuillemin, Annemarie Koster, Alan Donnelly, Ulf Ekelund, Benedicte Deforche, Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij, Johannes Brug, Hidde P. van der Ploeg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Physical inactivity is a well-known public health risk that should be monitored at the population level. Physical activity levels are often surveyed across Europe. This systematic literature review aims to provide an overview of all existing cross-European studies that assess physical activity in European adults, describe the variation in population levels according to these studies, and discuss the impact of the assessment methods. Methods: Six literature databases (PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, SportDiscus and OpenGrey) were searched, supplemented with backward-and forward tracking and searching authors' and experts' literature databases. Articles were included if they reported on observational studies measuring total physical activity and/or physical activity in leisure time in the general population in two or more European countries. Each record was reviewed, extracted and assessed by two independent researchers and disagreements were resolved by a third researcher. The review protocol of this review is registered in the PROSPERO database under registration number CRD42014010334. Results: Of the 9,756 unique identified articles, twenty-five were included in this review, reporting on sixteen different studies, including 2 to 35 countries and 321 to 274,740 participants. All but two of the studies used questionnaires to assess physical activity, with the majority of studies using the IPAQ-short questionnaire. The remaining studies used accelerometers. The percentage of participants who either were or were not meeting the physical activity recommendations was the most commonly reported outcome variable, with the percentage of participants meeting the recommendations ranging from 7 % to 96 % across studies and countries. Conclusions: The included studies showed substantial variation in the assessment methods, reported outcome variables and, consequently, the presented physical activity levels. Because of this, absolute population levels of physical activity in European adults are currently unknown. However, when ranking countries, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain generally appear to be among the less active countries. Objective data of adults across Europe is currently limited. These findings highlight the need for standardisation of the measurement methods, as well as cross-European monitoring of physical activity levels.
Original languageEnglish
Article number72
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2016


  • Adults
  • Assessment methods
  • Europe
  • Physical Activity
  • Prevalence
  • Review


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