Individuals’ physical inactivity costs $67.5 billion per year globally, a study by researchers at the University of Sydney has found.

In what is the first study to quantify the worldwide economic costs of not getting sufficient exercise, published in the scientific journal The Lancet, the largest portion, over 40 percent of the total, ($27.8 billion) comes from the U.S. This highlights the gap between high- and low-income countries.'

Melody Ding, Ph.D., who led the study, speaking to CBS News, said:

“After decades of research, we now have established knowledge about how physical inactivity contributes to premature deaths and chronic diseases, but the economic burden of physical inactivity remains unquantified at the global level. Through estimating the economic burden of physical inactivity for the first time, we hope to create a business case for investing in cost-effective actions to promote physical activity at the global levels."

Ding and her colleagues analysed 2013 data from 142 countries, studying five major non-communicable diseases which could be reduced by exercise.

The researchers calculated direct costs of healthcare at about $54 billion. Indirect costs, such as lost productivity due to early death, ere pegged at a further $13.7 billion.

The title of most costly disease went to type 2 diabetes, which was deemed to be responsible for $37.6 billion annually in direct costs.

[caption id=“attachment_80802” align=“aligncenter” width=“680”]leisure time physical activity among adults Centers for Disease Control and Prevention[/caption]

Only one in three U.S. adults gets the recommended amount of physical activity per week, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition estimates.  Regular physical activity decreases the risk of obesity and chronic diseases, controls weight, reduces blood pressure, and improves blood glucose and cholesterol control.

Physical activity also reduces feelings of depression and anxiety and promotes psychological well-being.

According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition:

  • Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day; only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week

  • Only 35 – 44% of adults 75 years or older are physically active, and 28-34% of adults ages 65-74 are physically active.

  • Children now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen (e.g., TV, videogames, computer).

  • Nearly one-third of high school students play video or computer games for 3 or more hours on an average school day.24

Dr Ding Ding, MD, Kenny D Lawson, PhD, Tracy L Kolbe-Alexander, PhD, Prof Eric A Finkelstein, PhD, Prof Peter T Katzmarzyk, PhD, Prof Willem van Mechelen, PhD, Prof Michael Pratt, MD The economic burden of physical inactivity: a global analysis of major non-communicable diseases The Lancet; DOI:

Photo: Ian Burt/Flickr

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