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Europe’s inactivity crisis: The economic cost


Europe’s inactivity crisis: The economic cost

The International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA) and the Centre for Economics and Business Research recently published a report entitled, ‘The economic cost of physical inactivity in Europe’. This article presents the main findings.

The report presents the economic costs of physical inactivity for six focus countries (Poland, Spain, Italy, France, United Kingdom, and Germany) where physical activity guidelines by the World Health Organisation recommend;

  • For children (aged 5-17) – at least 60 minutes of moderate – to vigorous – intensity physical activity daily
  • For adults (aged 18+) – at least 150 minutes of moderate – intensity activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous – intensity activity per week (or equivalent combination)

Direct cost of treating inactivity-related disorders

The report shows that the direct cost of treating inactivity-related disorders across the six countries is estimated at €9.2 billion per year. This figure is calculated as the total (public and private) health expenditure attributed to physical inactivity.

Direct costs

The disparity between Poland and the UK highlights a profound difference in the physical activity of their respective citizens, with just 5.8 million adults in Poland recorded as inactive, which is less than a third of the equivalent figure for the UK. Another interesting finding is noted when comparing France and Spain; while both countries display similar numbers of inactive citizens (14.9m and 14.3m in France and Spain, respectively), France spends relatively more money on the health costs associated with treating inactive individuals.

Indirect costs of inactivity
Indirect costs represent the estimated value of human capital (or economic value) which is lost due to morbidity and premature mortality due to physical inactivity (e.g. the economic value lost when a person is unable to continue in employment). This is calculated using 'disability – adjusted life years' (DALYs), which is a statistical tool used to quantify these years of lost economic value as a result of individuals suffering, and dying prematurely from inactivity-related disorders.

DALYs therefore “represent the burden a disorder imposes upon society through its associated disability, ill health and premature mortality”.

Indirect costs

The chart above therefore shows that the six focus countries shouldered €51.6 billion of indirect costs due to physical inactivity in 2012, rising to over €70 billion across Europe as a whole.

Notably, the total direct and indirect costs of inactivity across the whole of the EU is estimated to exceed €80 billion per year.

Europe is facing a growing healthcare cost crisis with an aging population and growing inactivity perpetuating the health challenges faced by society.

These statistics provide a visual representation of this crisis as it stands, but they also paint a worrying picture of the projected costs to come. However, there is good news; if these six focus countries reduce inactivity by only 5%, the report shows that the potential savings are substantial.

This is the challenge and now is the time for action.


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Mark James Johnson


Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 00:00