Diseases linked to physical inactivity, from heart disease to breast cancer, cost almost $68 billion worldwide in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity in 2013, a study of the economic impact of our increasingly sedentary world revealed.
Dr. Melody Ding, a senior research fellow from the University of Sydney, Australia, led the study, “The economic burden of physical inactivity: a global analysis of major non-communicable diseases,” published in The Lancet Series: Physical Activity.
“Physical inactivity is recognized as a global pandemic that not only leads to diseases and early deaths, but imposes a major burden to the economy,” Ding said in a press release. “Based on our data, physical inactivity costs the global economy $67.8 billion in 2013, with Australia footing a bill of more than AUD $805 million. At a global and individual country level, these figures are likely to be an underestimate of the real cost, because of the conservative methodologies used by the team and lack of data in many countries.”
Using data from 142 countries – representing 93.2% of the globe’s population – the researchers estimated for the first time the financial costs of physical inactivity by examining the direct healthcare costs, productivity losses and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for five major disease linked to inactivity: coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer.
“Our study has shown that the economic burden of physical inactivity is distributed unequally across regions, and disproportionately with high-income countries bearing a larger proportion of economic burden and low- and middle-income countries having a larger proportion of the disease burden,” added Ding. “Generally, poorer countries don’t have their health needs met due to less developed health and economic systems. Ultimately, poor households pay the most in terms of premature death and disease, showing inequalities. As these countries develop economically, so too will the consequent economic burden, if the pandemic of physical inactivity spreads as expected.”
Overall, the researchers found that, of the $67.8 billion total, $52.8 billion were direct costs of healthcare expenditure and 13.7 billion were indirect costs through lost productivity. Furthermore, $31.2 billion was lost in tax revenue through public healthcare expenditure; $12.9 billion lost in private sector pays for physical inactivity-related disease (e.g. health insurance companies); and $9.7 billion in total household out-of-pocket payments for these diseases. Type 2 diabetes had the greatest economic impact in 2013, accounting for $37.6 billion of total direct costs (70%).
“Globally, the economic burden of physical inactivity is projected to increase … if no action is taken to improve population levels of physical activity,” Ding said. “This study provides a better understanding of the true burden of the pandemic of physical inactivity, and provides useful information for policy making, funding allocation and benchmarking in global prevention of non-communicable diseases.”
Adrian Bauman, a University of Sydney professor and a member of the Lancet Physical Activity Series steering committee, added: “This research provides further justification to prioritize promotion of regular physical activity worldwide as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce non-communicable diseases. Increasing physical activity levels in communities is an important investment that governments should consider which could lead to savings in healthcare costs and more productivity in the labor market.”