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Higher Direct Medical Costs Associated with Physical Inactivity

Key Message

The data suggest that increasing participation in moderate physical activity among sedentary adults may reduce direct medical expenditures - between $300 and £1,053 per person per annum - a US saving of $76.6 billion at 2000 prices.

Source

Pratt, M, Macera, CA and Wang, G. (2000). Higher Direct Medical Costs Associated with Physical Inactivity. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. 28(10).

Purpose

This presents a cross-sectional analysis of the of the 1987 National Medical Expenditures Survey that included US civilian men and non-pregnant women aged 15 and over who were not in institutions. The sample of 35,000 was drawn from 14,000 households and the analysis is based on 20,041 (52% women; 85% white). Data were collected on socio-demographic factors, health status, use and expense of medical care and health-risk factors (eg regular physical activity and smoking status). Because respondents might have been unable to report accurate costs of medical care - costs were confirmed via an additional survey of medical providers. The analysis examined direct medical expenses of active and inactive men and women. 'Physically active' was defined as at least half an hour moderate/strenuous physical activity three or more times per week (57% of sample); 'smokers' were those who had smoked at least 100 cigarettes: 45%; 29% current smokers) and 13 per cent were obese (BMI: 30KG/m2).

Evidence

The authors identify real and substantial medical cost differences between the physically active and inactive. Consistent costs savings for regularly active people were observed for men and women, smokers and non-smokers, those with and without physical limitations and young and old (fewer physician visits; fewer hospital stays; less medication). The largest difference in direct medical costs was among women 55 and older, indicating that the health gain associated with physical activity is especially high for older women. Even among participants reporting limitations in carrying out moderate physical activities, medical costs were lower among those who were regularly active (some of this may be accounted for by less severe health limitations, but may also reflect a benefit of physical activity).

The authors admit that, although causality cannot be determined from a cross-sectional study, the data suggest that increasing participation in moderate physical activity among sedentary adults may reduce direct medical expenditures - between $300 and £1,053 per person per annum - a US saving of $76.6 billion at 2000 prices. The authors accept that additional economic analyses and longitudinal studies are needed to define both direct and indirect costs associated with physical activity. They conclude that their data indicate substantial medical costs differences between active and inactive people and that this emphasises that the reduction of physical inactivity is a public health priority.

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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