Global, regional, and national trends and patterns in physical activity research since 1950: a systematic review

Andrea Ramírez Varela, Gloria Isabel Nino Cruz, Pedro Hallal, Cauane Blumenberg, Shana Ginar da Silva, Deborah Salvo, Rafaela Martins, Bruna Gonçalves Cordeiro da Silva, Eugen Resendiz, Maria Catalina del Portillo, Luciana Zaranza Monteiro, Selina Khoo, Kar Hau Chong, Marcelo Cozzensa da Silva, Alice Mannocci, Ding Ding, Michael Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: National, regional and global scientific production and research capacity for physical activity - PA may contribute to improving public health PA policies and programs. There is an uneven distribution of research productivity by region and country income group, where countries with the highest burden of non-communicable diseases attributable to physical inactivity having low research productivity. A first step towards improving global research capacity is to objectively quantify patterns, trends, and gaps in PA research. This study describes national, regional and global trends and patterns of PA research from 1950 to 2019. Methods: A systematic review using searches in PubMed, SCOPUS and ISI Web of Knowledge databases was conducted in August 2017 and updated between January and May 2020. The review was registered at the PROSPERO database number CRD42017070153. PA publications per 100,000 inhabitants per country was the main variable of interest. Descriptive and time-trend analyses were conducted in STATA version 16.0. Results: The search retrieved 555,468 articles of which 75,756 were duplicates, leaving 479,712 eligible articles. After reviewing inclusion and exclusion criteria, 23,860 were eligible for data extraction. Eighty-one percent of countries (n = 176) had at least one PA publication. The overall worldwide publication rate in the PA field was 0.46 articles per 100,000 inhabitants. Europe had the highest rate (1.44 articles per 100,000 inhabitants) and South East Asia had the lowest (0.04 articles per 100,000 inhabitants). A more than a 50-fold difference in publications per 100,000 inhabitants was identified between high and low-income countries. The least productive and poorest regions have rates resembling previous decades of the most productive and the richest. Conclusion: This study showed an increasing number of publications over the last 60 years with a growing number of disciplines and research methods over time. However, striking inequities were revealed and the knowledge gap across geographic regions and by country income groups was substantial over time. The need for regular global surveillance of PA research, particularly in countries with the largest data gaps is clear. A focus on the public health impact and global equity of research will be an important contribution to making the world more active.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Epidemiology
  • Physical activity
  • Public health
  • Research
  • Surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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