Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Perceived benefits and barriers to physical activity in a nationally representative sample in the European Union

Hans-Joachim Franz Zunfta1, Dietlinde Friebea1, Brigitte Seppelta1, Kurt Widhalma2, Anne-Marie Remaut de Wintera3, Maria Daniel Vaz de Almeidaa4, John M Kearneya5 and Michael Gibneya5

a1 German Institute of Human Nutrition, Arthur-Scheunert-Allee 114-116, D-14558 Bergholz-Rehbruecke, Germany

a2 University Kinderklinik, Wahringer Guertel 18-20, A-1090 Vienna, Austria

a3 University of Ghent Faculty of Agricultural and Applied Biological Science, CISNA/ICFSN, Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium

a4 Curso de Ciencias da Nutricao, R Dr Roberto Frias, 4000-Porto, Portugal

a5 Institute of European Food Studies, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland


Objective To examine the attitudes of consumers, in particular their perceived benefits and barriers to physical activity from all EU member states, and having a measure of prevailing levels of activity, inactivity and self-reported body weight and body shape.

Design Cross-sectional survey using an interview-assisted face-to-face questionnaire.

Setting The survey was conducted between March and April 1997 in the 15 member states of the EU.

Subjects Overall, 15 239 EU subjects, classified according to sex, age (six levels) and highest level of education attained (primary, secondary or tertiary), completed the survey. Sample selection of subjects in each EU member state was quota-controlled to ensure they were nationally representative.

Results The most important motivation for people to participate in physical activity is to maintain good health (42%), to release tension (30%) and to get fit (30%). The importance of the health argument is highest in older persons and in subjects with a primary education level. Only 13% of the EU population (16% of women, 10% of men) perceived losing weight as a benefit of physical exercise. The most important barriers to increase physical activity are work or study commitments (28%) and the subjects' belief that they are not ‘the sporty type’ (25%). There is considerable between-country variation in the answering pattern within the EU.