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Household survey shows more men than women meet physical activity guidelines.

Nearly two thirds of men (66 per cent) met national aerobic activity guidelines in 2016 compared to 58 per cent of women2, according to NHS Digital figures released yesterday.

The Health Survey for England series3monitors trends in the nation's health and covers a differing variety of topics each year including obesity, smoking and drinking and wellbeing. The surveys gather information from both adults and children.

Physical activity

London had the highest proportion of people aged sixteen or over meeting the guidelines for aerobic activity, at 65 per cent, whereas the West Midlands had the lowest, at 53 per cent. On average, 62 per cent of adults in England met the guidelines.

The UK guidelines for aerobic physical activity recommend that adults aged 19 and over should undertake a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more.4 Alternatively, comparable benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week, or combinations of moderate and vigorous intensity activity5.

50 per cent of people aged sixteen or over met these guidelines in the most deprived areas compared to 68 per cent in the least deprived areas6.

While men were more likely to meet the aerobic activity guidelines than women, the survey also showed that on average men were more sedentary than women when not at their paid work, spending an average of 4.8 hours sitting on a weekday and 5.3 hours on a weekend compared to women's 4.6 weekday hours and 4.9 weekend hours7.

Mental health and wellbeing

The survey also found that the proportion of adults with a high GHQ-12 score, had grown from 15 per cent in 2012 to 19 per cent in 20168.

GHQ-12 is a 12-item questionnaire asking the participants about their general levels of happiness, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and self-confidence.  Therefore, it gives an indication of probable mental ill health rather than the more detailed assessment done for NHS Digital's Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey.

Most age groups showed some increase in probable mental ill health but the largest increases were reported among men aged 16-24 and 25-34 and women aged 16-24. Nine per cent of men in both the 16-24 and 25-34 age brackets had probable mental ill health in 2012 compared to 16 per cent of those aged 16-24 and 18 per cent of those aged 25-34 in 2016. In 2012, 21 per cent of women aged 16-24 had probable mental ill health compared to 28 per cent in 2016.

Liver disease

For the first time, questions have been included on liver disease in the 2016 survey.

This has shown that one per cent of all adults reported doctor-diagnosed chronic liver disease. This was most prevalent among those aged 55-64; three per cent of these reported doctor-diagnosed chronic liver disease.

Prescribed medicines

Forty-eight per cent of adults reported having taken at least one prescribed medicine in the last week and 24 per cent had taken three or more.

People may have more than one health condition and this is more common as people age. 82 per cent of those aged 85 and over had taken three or more medicines in the last week.

The survey also shows that the use of 10 or more prescribed medicines in the past week was relatively uncommon overall at just 3 per cent of all adults. Among older adults, the proportions who had used 10 or more prescribed medicines in the last week was 6 per cent of those aged 65 to 74 and 13 per cent of those aged 85 and over9.

The survey is commissioned by NHS Digital and carried out by NatCen Social Research in conjunction with University College London, who co-author the report.

Read the full report

Health Survey for England 2016

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Notes to editors

  1. NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system. Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend. During the 2016/17 financial year, NHS Digital published 292 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.
  2. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number. The guidelines and figures in this paragraph relate to adults aged nineteen and over.
  3. The Health Survey for England provides information about adults aged 16 and over, and children aged 0 to 15, living in private households in England. The survey consists of an interview in person, followed by a visit from a nurse who takes a number of measurements and samples. A total of 8,011 adults (aged 16 and over) and 2,056 children (aged 0 to 15) were interviewed in the 2016 survey. 5,049 adults had a nurse visit. The sample is designed to represent the whole population as accurately as possible within practical constraints, such as time and cost. Consequently, statistics based on the survey are estimates, rather than precise figures, and are subject to a margin of error. For further details see the Methods report.
  4. Guidelines can be found in the Department of Health's Start Active, Stay Active. Link here.
  5. Guidelines also recommend adults do strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). Survey findings about the percentage of people meeting these are in the topic report.
  6. Using the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) which is a measure of the overall deprivation experienced by people living in a neighbourhood. IMD rankings have been split into five quintiles. The lowest quintile indicates the lowest levels of deprivation; the highest quintile indicates that the neighbourhood experiences the highest levels of deprivation. Not everyone who lives in a deprived neighbourhood will be deprived themselves. The English Indices of Deprivation 2015, measure and rank local levels of deprivation and are calculated by the Department for Communities and Local Government, see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/465791/English_Indices_of_Deprivation_2015_-_Statistical_Release.pdf The indices are based on 37 indicators across seven domains: income deprivation; employment deprivation; health deprivation and disability; education; skills and training deprivation; crime; barriers to housing and services; and living environment deprivation.
  7. Sedentary behaviour is defined as activity with very low energy expenditure, undertaken primarily sitting or lying down. Survey participants were asked about time people spent watching television and doing such things as reading, studying, drawing, using a computer or playing video games excluding sedentary time during paid work.
  8. The General Health Questionnaire-12 (GHQ12) is a short 12 item screening tool designed to pick up on general psychological distress. It is a useful and widely-used indicator, but does have limitations. 
  • It is a general measure of distress; it does not screen for specific symptoms or conditions
  • It is an inclusive measure; many of those screening positive do not have a psychiatric disorder
  • It is not able to differentiate levels of severity well
  •  It asks about recent change in symptoms, and so is not designed to pick up on chronic (long-term) conditions.

NHSD also has a specialist survey of mental health, the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey . That survey assesses for presence of six specific common mental disorders, fourteen types of anxiety and depressive symptoms, and a dimensional indicator of overall severity using the much longer (133 item) Clinical Interview Schedule (CIS-R). Rather than use a general screen, it asks about the specific criteria that clinicians would use to diagnose conditions.

The GHQ12 and the CIS-R are different tools measuring different things, rates should not be expected to be comparable. 

  1. In 2016, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence published advice on the care of people with two or more long term conditions who are taking 10 or more regular medicines, which can be found here.
  2. For media enquiries please contact media@nhsdigital.nhs.net or telephone 0300 30 33 888.


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Original article link: https://digital.nhs.uk/article/8359/Household-survey-shows-more-men-than-women-meet-physical-activity-guidelines-

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