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Extreme Global Costs of Physical Inactivity

Jan 02, 2023 4:17 pm

A global, population-based study shows that physical inactivity is not only an important modifiable risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and mental health conditions, it also imparts a considerable health and economic burden that is avoidable.

Modifiable risk factors, such as tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets, and physical inactivity, are a significant linch pin to population health. It has been estimated that every US$1 invested in reducing these risk factors has up to US$7 in low-income and middle-income countries. Physical inactivity is a significant contributor to many disorders including stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, several cancers, dementia, depression, and all-cause mortality (especially cardiovascular deaths).

Researchers estimated the direct public health-care costs of NCDs and mental health conditions for 2020–30 in 194 countries, including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer (breast, colon, bladder, endometrial, oesophageal, gastric, and renal), dementia, and depression in adults.

The found that if if the prevalence of physical inactivity does not change, there would be 499·2 million new cases of preventable major NCDs, with direct health-care costs of INT$520 billion by the year 2030. The global cost of inaction on physical inactivity would reach approximately $47·6 billion per year, While 74% of new cases would occur in low-income and middle-countries, high-income countries would bear a larger proportion (63%) of the economic costs. 

The cost of treating these NCDs varied—although dementia accounted for only 3% of new preventable NCDs, but accounted for 22% of all costs; type 2 diabetes accounted for 2% of new preventable cases but 9% of all costs; and cancers accounted for 1% of new preventable cases but 15% of all costs.  Hence, it is more costly to treat these diseases that could have been prevented.

This health and economic burden of physical inactivity is avoidable. Policies and interventions are sorely needed to to allow countries to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of reduction of NCD mortality by 2030.


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The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose related to this subject