The soaring costs of physical inactivity on healthcare

The soaring costs of physical inactivity on healthcare'
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The first-ever global report by WHO highlights the true cost of physical inactivity, including the impact of rising cases of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that almost 500 million people will develop key diseases and conditions attributable to physical inactivity between 2020 and 2030, costing $27 billion annually, if governments do not take urgent action.

The Global status report on physical activity 2022 was published on 20 October 2022 by WHO, illuminating the impact of government recommendations to reduce physical inactivity and increase exercise across all ages and abilities.

Physical inactivity is a widespread problem

Data from 194 countries show that overall, progress is slow and that countries need to improve the development and implementation of policies to increase levels of physical activity to therefore prevent disease and reduce the burden on already overwhelmed healthcare systems.

The report found that:

  • Less than 50% of countries have a national physical activity policy, but less than 40% are operational,
  • Only 30% of countries have national physical activity guidelines for all age groups,
  • Nearly all countries report a system for monitoring physical activity levels in adults, 75% monitor physical activity in adolescents, and less than 30% monitor physical activity in children under five,
  • In policy areas that could encourage active transport, only around 40% of countries have road design standards that make walking and cycling safer.

“We need more countries to scale up implementation of policies to support people to be more active through walking, cycling, sport, and other physical activity. The benefits are huge, not only for the physical and mental health of individuals, but also societies, environments, and economies…” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “We hope countries and partners will use this report to build more active, healthier, and fairer societies for all.”

The financial burden of minimal exercise

The economic burden of physical inactivity is significant, and the cost of treating new cases of preventable non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will reach nearly $300bn by 2030.

National policies have been introduced to tackle NCDs, and physical inactivity has increased in recent years currently, 28% of the policies are not funded or used. The report indicated that just over 50% of countries ran a national communications campaign, or organised mass participation physical activity events in the last two years. It is important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic did not stall these events, but it did affect other policy implementations, widening inequalities in access to and opportunities for, engaging in physical activity for many communities.

Helping countries increase physical activity levels

The Global action plan on physical activity 2018-2030 (GAPPA) aims to help countries tackle physical inactivity. The plan includes 20 policy recommendations, which include policies to create safer roads and provide more opportunities for healthy initiatives in key settings such as schools and the workplace. The Global Status report assessed the country’s progress against those recommendations and found that more is needed to support countries improve physical inactivity. One critical finding was significant gaps in global data to track progress on important policy actions such as the provision of walking and cycling infrastructure.

“We are missing globally approved indicators to measure access to parks, cycle lanes, footpaths – even though we know that data do exist in some countries. Consequently, we cannot report or track the global provision of infrastructure that will facilitate increases in physical activity,” said Fiona Bull, Head of WHO Physical Activity Unit. “It can be a vicious circle, no indicator and no data leads to no tracking and no accountability, and then too often, to no policy and no investment. What gets measured gets done, and we have some way to go to comprehensively and robustly track national actions on physical activity.”



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