The Billions Spent on Healthcare for Sedentary Citizens Warrants Global Response

Premature morbidity and mortality as a result of living a sedentary lifestyle without enough exercise cost the healthcare system more than $50 billion a year worldwide, and this saddles employers with significant losses as well, according to a new economic analysis.  

“Results from this study could be used to inform global policy and practice in physical activity-related areas,” write lead author Ding Ding, PhD (University of Sydney, Camperdown, Australia), and colleagues in a paper published online July 28, 2016, in the Lancet.

Their study, which sought to characterize the economic costs of physical inactivity on a broad scale, included data from the Global Burden of Disease study, International Diabetes Federation, World Health Organization, World Bank, and International Labour Organization. Together, it encompasses 142 countries, representing 93% of the world’s population.

Healthcare, Business Sectors Losing $67.5 Billion a Year

The researchers looked at the impact of physical inactivity on healthcare-related expenditures for five noncommunicable diseases: coronary heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, colon cancer, and diabetes. Of the $53.8 billion in healthcare costs from these diseases in 2013, diabetes far outweighed all the others, racking up $37.6 billion annually. By contrast, $5 billion was spent on coronary heart disease. Among employers, mortality related to physical inactivity resulted in productivity losses of $13.7 billion.

Adding up the healthcare and employer costs, they conservatively estimated the impact of inactivity on the world economy to be $67.5 billion per year.

Ding et al also delved into the issue of how and by whom the economic costs are borne by estimating the healthcare costs to public, private, and third-party sectors as well as to households within each country. They found physical inactivity’s burden to be unevenly distributed, with high-income countries bearing 80.8% of the healthcare costs and 60.4% of the indirect costs, and low- and middle-income countries shouldering the greatest disease burden.

Direct costs of physical inactivity represented an average of 0.33% of total healthcare expenditure in Africa, 0.53% in Latin America and Caribbean, 0.84% in North America, 0.76% in the Eastern Mediterranean region, 0.55% in Europe, 0.22% in southeast Asia, 0.54% in the Western Pacific region, and 0.64% globally.

“Generally, poorer countries have more unmet health need, due to less developed health and economic systems,” Ding and colleagues write. “Ultimately, poor households pay the most in terms of premature morbidity and mortality, showing inequalities.”

Calling the situation a “global pandemic,” the study authors say the study “is intended to help to emphasize the need to promote physical activity, undertake economic evaluations to identify cost-effective interventions, and further encourage resource-constrained decision makers to prioritize and invest in physical activity strategies.”





  • Ding D, Lawson KD, Kolbe-Alexander TL, et al. The economic burden of physical inactivity: a global analysis of major non-communicable diseases. Lancet. 2016;Epub ahead of print. 




  • Ding reports no relevant conflicts of interest. 


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