Billions could be gained from a more physically active population

A new study by the RAND Corporation argues that billions in GDP can be gained if Americans were more physically active.

It is estimated that about 30 per cent of the global population is considered to be physically inactive. Such inactivity is of high concern when the physical and mental health benefits of physical activity are well established, and that research shows that regular physical activity is associated with lower onset rates of a range of disease conditions. Research also illuminates the stark fact that physical inactivity is associated with more than 5 million deaths every year. With the global rates of physical activity diminishing, and the associated costs to humankind increasing as a result, the insidious and dangerous nature of such global inactivity is becoming increasingly exposed.

In recognition of this, and in order to explore how these high levels of physical inactivity drive cost in economies, the Vitality Group asked RAND Europe to conduct an economic analysis of the potential economic benefits associated with getting people to be more physically active. Using a multi-country computable general equilibrium (CGE) macroeconomic model, RAND Europe examined the potential global implications of insufficient physical activity and changes of physical activity levels at the population level across different countries. The overarching aim of the study was to explore the main economic costs of physical inactivity and to identify the key benefits to improving activity rates. By presenting this data via the three modelled scenarios, the consequence of higher inactivity compared to improved activity rates may be better understood.

The Report’s Key Findings

The findings suggest that making people physically more active is associated with economic benefits. Under three different physical activity improvement scenarios, it is estimated that by 2025, the global GDP could be between US$138 billion — US$338 billion higher with increased activity, compared to current physical activity levels. The economic benefits are increasing over time and by 2050 the estimated increase could be nearer to between US$314 billion and US$760 billion. A breakdown of the GDP gains suggests that reduced presenteeism drives the highest proportion of economic gain as a result of reducing physical inactivity — about 70 per cent — with reduced mortality and reduced sickness absence responsible for only about 30 per cent of the overall GDP gains projected.

Furthermore, the findings suggest that billions of dollars in global healthcare expenditure could be saved by improving physical activity rates. Overall the models estimate that between US$8.7 billion – US$11.2 billion in present global healthcare expenditure could be saved by making people physically more active, with those savings rising to between US$16 billion and US$20.6 billion by 2050.

The Report’s Recommendations

Change population behaviours and attitudes to promote the increase of physical activity, supporting and encouraging individuals to shift their beliefs and motivations.

Using both community and workplace settings, provide an environment that encourages physical activity and that supports the access to facilities. Encourage participation in programmes and interventions. Encourage more physical activity across society by interlinking systems-wide programmes and interventions.

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