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

  • Hans-Joachim Franz Zunft (a1), Dietlinde Friebe (a1), Brigitte Seppelt (a1), Kurt Widhalm (a2), Anne-Marie Remaut de Winter (a3), Maria Daniel Vaz de Almeida (a4), John M Kearney (a5) and Michael Gibney (a5)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 January 2007

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.


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


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


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.


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.

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