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The economic benefits of reducing physical inactivity: an Australian example

Dominique A Cadilhac1234*, Toby B Cumming2, Lauren Sheppard3, Dora C Pearce4, Rob Carter3 and Anne Magnus3

Author Affiliations

1 Stroke and Ageing Research Centre, Southern Clinical School, Monash University, Clayton 3168, Vic, Australia

2 National Stroke Research Institute, Heidelberg Heights 3081, Vic, Australia

3 Deakin Health Economics, Deakin University, Burwood Australia

4 The University of Melbourne 3010, Australia

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8:99  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-99

Published: 24 September 2011



Physical inactivity has major impacts on health and productivity. Our aim was to estimate the health and economic benefits of reducing the prevalence of physical inactivity in the 2008 Australian adult population. The economic benefits were estimated as 'opportunity cost savings', which represent resources utilized in the treatment of preventable disease that are potentially available for re-direction to another purpose from fewer incident cases of disease occurring in communities.


Simulation models were developed to show the effect of a 10% feasible, reduction target for physical inactivity from current Australian levels (70%). Lifetime cohort health benefits were estimated as fewer incident cases of inactivity-related diseases; deaths; and Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) by age and sex. Opportunity costs were estimated as health sector cost impacts, as well as paid and unpaid production gains and leisure impacts from fewer disease events associated with reduced physical inactivity. Workforce production gains were estimated by comparing surveyed participation and absenteeism rates of physically active and inactive adults, and valued using the friction cost approach. The impact of an improvement in health status on unpaid household production and leisure time were modeled from time use survey data, as applied to the exposed and non-exposed population subgroups and valued by suitable proxy. Potential costs associated with interventions to increase physical activity were not included. Multivariable uncertainty analyses and univariate sensitivity analyses were undertaken to provide information on the strength of the conclusions.


A 10% reduction in physical inactivity would result in 6,000 fewer incident cases of disease, 2,000 fewer deaths, 25,000 fewer DALYs and provide gains in working days (114,000), days of home-based production (180,000) while conferring a AUD96 million reduction in health sector costs. Lifetime potential opportunity cost savings in workforce production (AUD12 million), home-based production (AUD71 million) and leisure-based production (AUD79 million) was estimated (total AUD162 million 95% uncertainty interval AUD136 million, AUD196 million).


Opportunity cost savings and health benefits conservatively estimated from a reduction in population-level physical inactivity may be substantial. The largest savings will benefit individuals in the form of unpaid production and leisure gains, followed by the health sector, business and government.