The World Health Organization lists physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. Physical inactivity can have a significant impact on the prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, and the trend is, unfortunately, going in the wrong direction. Levels of inactivity are rising in many countries, influenced by ageing populations, unplanned urbanization, and the changing pace of modern life.
Some estimates suggest that physical inactivity costs the European economy over €80 billion per year. At a time when many healthcare systems across the EU are tightening their budgets, can Europe really afford this? If people took better care of their health by being physically active, eating balanced diets, and looking after their physical and mental well-being, then a significant sum of money could be saved.
Do you want to know more about health risks and the costs associated with physical inactivity? Take a look at ISCA’s infographic below (click for a bigger image):
We had a comment sent in from Eric, arguing that if people don’t want to exercise then we can’t force them. On the other hand, he also thought that people who aren’t physically active shouldn’t expect help from the state or tax payer. In other words, Eric believes that people should be free to be as physically inactive as they like, as long as the costs aren’t passed on to others. But is this realistic proposal? Can we really avoid paying the costs of physical inactivity in this way?
To get a response, we spoke to Vicky Pryce, an economist and former Joint Head of the UK’s Government Economic Service. What would she say to Eric?
One of the most common replies we had to our previous post in this series was that people just don’t have time to be physically active. For example, we had a comment sent in by Myron arguing that we can’t expect people to find the time to be physically active if they “need to work, like, 15 hours a day”.
How would Vicky Pryce react to Myron’s comment?
To get another perspective, we put Myron’s comment to Willem van Mechelen, Professor of Occupational and Sports Medicine, Department of Public and Occupational Health, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam. What would he say?
Obviously it depends on what your job is, but let’s assume you have an office job and so are bound by the nature of your job to be physically inactive. There are still ways to become physically active. You can, rather than take the car to work, do ‘active transportation’. We know people who use public transport, or who walk and bike, have higher levels of physical activity, even if they are sitting behind their desk all day, compared to those who take the car.
You may also want to have interventions in the workplace, by offering people at work opportunities to become physically active. You may want to slow down the elevator, for example, or otherwise encourage people to take the stairs if they need to move between floors in an office building, or you may want to decide to go for a walk during your lunchtime…
Can we afford the cost of physical inactivity? How much is physical inactivity costing Europe? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Sukkulaati