Society Insights

Healthy country, (un)healthy people

The trend

From the EURO at Wembley to the pavè in Roubaix, passing through Tokyo for the volleyball arenas and the tennis courts, 2021 has been the glorious year for Italian sports. This success has even come in disciplines that don’t get much of the spotlight, such as polo, bocce ball, free diving fishing, aerobic gymnastics and rock climbing. The buzz is speculating on a “growing movement,” “the rebirth of Italian sport,” “the new Italian miracle.”
But this story is not entirely grounded in fact, according to a new Ipsos report .
This report surveyed people from 29 countries in the world on the sports they play regularly, painting a bleak picture of Italy, a country described as lazy, sedentary, disinterested in exercising either individually or in a group. We are third from the bottom in the number of hours of sport we do per week (3.6). Worse still, 26% of the Italians interviewed said they never do any sport or exercise (only Japan and Brazil are worse on that score), and 40% say they don’t want to change their habits. And over half (53%) claim they’ve never participated in a team sport, compared with the global average of 38%.
On September 2021, when President Mattarella welcomed the medal winners from Tokyo, he expressed the wish that Olympic success might “convince and attract young generations to stay connected to sport.” In light of the Ipsos findings, this is a call to action that we can all support, now more than ever before.

Key takeaways

The Ipsos report was run in collaboration with the World Economic Forum on a sample of over 21,000 interviewees from 29 countries. According to the findings, people from the Netherlands are the most physically active: on average, they say they spend 12.8 hours a week exercising or playing a team sport (that figure rises to 15.2 for men alone), double the average of other countries (6.1 ore). After the Netherlands in terms of physically active citizens, we have Germany (11.1 hours) and Romania (11 hours); at the bottom of the list are the Italians, the Japanese, and the Brazilians. With the exception of Germany (11 vs 11.3 hours), on average men do more sports than women. Along with Brazilian women, Italian women are the least active, clocking only 2.7 hours of sport a week.
At a global level, people most often do fitness (20%), running (19%) and cycling (13%). Fitness is hugely popular in Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Chile and Peru (at 32%, 29%, 29% and 28% respectively). Over 50% of the Chinese respondents say they run at least once a week, while cycling is the most common sport in India (31%) and Hungary (30%).
Italy has quite low numbers for traditionally popular sports such as cycling (only 8% go cycling regularly), soccer (7%) and swimming (5%). The figures are slightly higher for fitness and running (13% for both, but far below the world averages, which stand at 20% and 19% respectively).
Of the survey respondents, 58% claim they would like to do more sport than they currently do (in Italy the percentage dips to 54%). But the biggest obstacles are a lack of time (37%), a lack of money (18%) or too hot/cold weather (17%).
Among Italian survey participants, 31% say they don’t think there are any specific barriers to doing more physical exercise, so, it’s not a question of a lack of time or money, or bad weather or a lack of sport facilities. Italians simply aren’t keen on physical activity.


Healthy country, (un)healthy people