healthHealth and Medicine

Smartphone Data Reveals The World's Most And Least Active Countries


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer


Amazing what you can do with the accelerometer on a smartphone. IR Stone/Shutterstock

Your smartphone is being tracked by scientists, and they know how lazy you are. Thanks to the somewhat sneaky research by Stanford University, we now know which countries feature people that walk the most and those that walk the least.

The team used the fitness/activity tracker app Argus, which is used all over the planet. Tracking a combined total of 68 million days of physical activity for almost 720,000 anonymized people across 46 key countries for three months, they essentially tallied up the average number of footsteps people take every single day.


Those with higher numbers were clearly more active, while those on the other end of the scale were far less active. It’s a simple and elegant way to get a hold on activity levels, and with that, here are the most active nations on Earth, as ranked by average daily steps.

Most Active:

1 – China [6,289]

2 – Japan [6,010]


3 – Spain [5,936]

4 – UK [5,444]

5 – USA [4,774]

Least Active:


1 – Indonesia [3,513]

2 – Saudi Arabia [3,807]

3 – Malaysia [3,963]

4 – Philippines [4,008]


5 – South Africa [4,105]

The map of the average daily steps taken by the residents of various countries around the world. Stanford University

Unsurprisingly, if a city is more walkable and more pedestrianized, activity levels are higher than in other cities where the opposite is true.

“In cities that are more walkable everyone tends to take more daily steps, whether male or female, young or old, healthy weight or obese,” co-author Jennifer Hicks, director of data science for the Mobilize Center at Stanford, said in a statement.

Importantly, the team found that when cities are less walkable, the gap between those that are normally active and those that aren’t is far larger. This gap is referred to as the “activity inequality”, and the larger this gap is, the more prevalent obesity is.


This means that a country can have a higher average step count per person, but still suffer from obesity as the activity inequality is particularly high. When ranked by this measure, the USA ranks at number 42 (of 46 countries), which means that there is a huge gap between highly active and highly inactive people, and obesity rates are driven higher. Australia and Saudi Arabia are second-worst and worst in this regard.

On the other hand, places like China (#2), Japan (#6), South Korea (#4), Norway (#8), Sweden (#3), and Hong Kong (#1) have low activity inequality, meaning that multiple demographics are fairly active and obesity rates are lower.

Activity inequality tracks very well with obesity rates. Stanford University

Interestingly, when cities are more walkable, the greatest increases in activity are seen more in women, not men. This means that men are less affected by the type of environment they live in, whereas women are strongly affected by it.

Ultimately, this implies women are more likely to be affected by obesity in less walkable cities. So it seems that a good way to tackle obesity in cities, and to ensure everyone stays physically active, is to make cities more pedestrian-friendly.


This Nature study also took a look at the lack of activity inequality and walkability present in various US cities too. New York City came out on top, just ahead of San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston as some of the most walkable/activity equality-prone cities. Los Angeles can be found somewhere in the middle, as can Denver, Miami, and Philadelphia. Houston, Memphis, and Fort Worth rank fairly low.


healthHealth and Medicine
  • tag
  • obesity,

  • smartphone,

  • lazy,

  • active,

  • tracker,

  • least active,

  • active inequality