Since the beginning of the pandemic, numerous scientific studies have found that obesity and diabetes patients are in the highest risk group for COVID-19 regardless of their age. As 41 million people around the world die due to noncommunicable diseases each year, in which obesity and diabetes play a big role, the pandemic has worsened an already problematic situation.
Apart from traditional medical practices, healthy nutrition and regular physical activity are the strongest weapons we have against obesity and diabetes. Nevertheless, only one-third of the world’s adult population is doing sufficient physical activity, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The situation is also very dire in Turkey as only 23.0% of men and 13.3% of women meet the recommended level of physical activity in their leisure time, according to research conducted in 2015 and led by associate professor Melih Kaan Sözmen.
Thus, it is of utmost importance that Turkey steps up its efforts to get its population more active to prevent health issues related to physical inactivity. Turkey has already taken crucial steps in the last decade with more data management, better planning and global cooperation.
The Ministry of Health has published “Physical Activity Action Plans” every three years since 2010. These detailed plans outline many details related to the daily life of the Turkish people, from workplace exercise opportunities to eliminating socioeconomic barriers in physical activity. Furthermore, Article 59 of the Constitution states: “The State takes measures to improve the physical and mental health of Turkish citizens at every age and promotes the extension of sports to the masses. The state protects successful athletes.”
However, taking a look at these moves, it is clear that there are problems regarding implementation. First of all, the documents do not refer to earlier works or review the results, making it impossible to accumulate knowledge in the long run. This stand-alone style of the action plans also makes it hard to assess their success rate and to make necessary amendments for future plans. Hence, for the next action plan for physical activity, the Ministry of Health must make sure that the results of its previous plans are carefully scrutinized.
The second step should be creating more cooperation between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Education. The figures from the Ministry of Health also show that the prevalence of obesity and diabetes is on the rise among children and teenagers, an alarming picture for the future. Thus, these three ministries must work together to create more projects by signing new protocols that would make cooperation easier. Considering the employment opportunities this cooperation could create, it would also be a good stimulus for sports for all sectors.
We must also keep in mind that physical inactivity puts a huge economic burden on health care. WHO projected the total economic burden associated with unhealthy diets and low physical activity risk factors, as manifested in new Type 2 diabetes cases, at more than $1 billion in 2020 for France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. alone.
Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, it is of utmost importance that Turkey keeps its population fit and healthy. The two steps outlined, combined with more cooperation with global partners and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), should create a good start for a new physical activity perspective in Turkey.