Prevention in Focus

Webinar Series

World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior for Persons with Disabilities: Process to Practice

October 18, 2022
Headshot of Catherine Carty, Ph.D.
Catherine Carty, Ph.D.

United Nations Educational, Scientific 
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Munster Technological University

Headshot of Lindsay Lee
Lindsay Lee, M.P.P., M.Sc.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

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About the Webinar

The World Health Organization (WHO) released the first global public health guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior for people living with disabilities in 2020. The evidence-based guidelines were urgently needed considering the rampant exclusion of people living with disabilities from nearly all sectors of public life, including health care, sports, and physical activity.

People living with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be physically inactive as those without disabilities, increasing the physical, mental, and social health risks. Lower participation reflects additional barriers faced, including physical, personal, social, and environmental barriers. Evidence suggests that there are no significant risks to engaging in physical activity that is appropriate to an individual's current activity level, health status, and physical function. The health benefits accrued generally outweigh the risks. The evidence also emphasizes the benefits of limiting sedentary behavior.

Considerable effort is needed to advance this agenda, and the guidelines mark a positive step forward for enhancing disability inclusion. This presentation presents an overview of the guidelines, their development process, and practical application. It highlights critical considerations for implementing the new recommendations for people living with disabilities, in line with the human rights agenda underpinning the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018–2030: More Active People for a Healthier World and allied policies.

About Catherine Carty

Dr. Catherine Carty leads the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Chair on Inclusive Physical Activity and Sport at Munster Technological University in Ireland. This chair has responsibility for advancing the rights of persons with disabilities as aligned with UNESCO global policy. She leads an international consortium to promote disability inclusion in and through sports, physical activity, and physical education. She advocates the sustainable development principle of no one left behind. Dr. Carty led a 3-day session on this agenda at World Expo 2020 Dubai in January 2022, bringing together the United Nations (UN) and multilateral agencies, governments, the sports sector, development banks, and human rights institutions. She sat on the guidelines development group for WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior for persons with disabilities 2020, where she chaired the disability subgroup. Dr. Carty developed the award-winning Universal Fitness Innovation & Transformation (UFIT) program to make the fitness industry more inclusive of people living with disabilities. She sits on the steering group for Measuring the Contribution of Sport, Physical Education and Physical Activity to the Sustainable Development Goals, the Advisory Council of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, the UN Inter-Agency Group on Sport for Development and Peace, the Global Action on Disability (GLAD) Network, the #WeThe15 steering group, and the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Towards an Integrated Policy Approach advisory group.

About Lindsay Lee

Lindsay Lee is an Analytics Solutions Architect with the Analytics Services team at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She previously served as a Technical Officer at WHO where she supported all aspects of the WHO Blindness and Deafness Prevention, Disability and Rehabilitation program, particularly focused on disability data. In her time at WHO, she helped contribute to WHO’s guidance on physical activity for people experiencing disabilities. She also worked on WHO’s initial guidance on protecting people living with disabilities amid the COVID-19 outbreak, in collaboration with other UN agencies. She also contributed to the development of the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy and its implementation at WHO. She completed her Master of Public Policy and M.Sc. in applied statistics at University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar from 2014–2016.

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