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?

willemObviously 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

28 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Ingemar Grahn

    I Do Not agree With Eric.if so the Tobacco and Otter drogs should meade you forfit the médical cèdre. It World be better to say that the employer should have AT least 4 houers of fysical activetis à week during workhouer. Théy tend to have that allreddy in som asian countries. So ist time for europe to Do the Same.

    • avatar

      Ingemar,I actually believe that liver transplants ,and heart lung transplants should absolutely be denied to heavy smokers and drinkers, and so ,yes medical care ( which is a finite supply ) should indeed be directed towards those who fall ill through illnesses which the individual is not directly responsible for.
      Sorry if this sounds harsh but there are to be quite blunt far more people in need of medical care than can be realistically treated and therefore priority should be aimed at the most serious and NON self inflicted illnesses.

  2. avatar
    Ad Seelt

    Who is responsible for the fact that less and less people are needed to do the same amount of labour? Lack of physical exercise became a problem when more and more people began to work in offices and nowadays are put out if work due to computerusation. In china and japan it is quite common to do a daily exercise at work…why not here? Here we tend to keep the highest possible productivity rate and don’t care about wellbeing.

  3. avatar
    Stavroula Gatsou

    from what i ve heard north of europe is suffering of burnout, couldn’t we talk about real social and human problems, be a more less “political correct’ and honest for once,

  4. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    Not at all- despite everyone insisting first on ‘personal independence’- not interdependence! To fully fund, maintain and expect the ever increasing current cost of public health care (accustomed cradle to grave welfare?) to remain financially viable- becomes more & more an impossibility.

    Reasons are many and the space here limited. E.g.: starting with a loss of the ‘healthy” but frowned upon mandatory national military service- coupled with the loss of an allegiance to ones country- without an alternative! More increases in health costs due to the ongoing but uncontrolled massive influx of poor migrants with an unknown health history & risk. The general disarray, lack of proper actions & dilemma caused by the self- imposition of the “well known Suzerain” and their myrmidon followers- dangerously exposing our proverbial “Achilles heel”.

    Does the broad majority has any real incentive to look after their health- change (bad) habits or take full personal responsibility (except a tax contribution when employed)? One surely cannot expect the government (all us taxpayers) or employers to play Nanny & provide intensive health education, or in house gyms and sharing the burden of the many bad choices taken. Every responsible person, every sovereign country must contribute and master its own risk- predetermined by a mix of genetics, their responsible & irresponsible citizen.

    Needed are: more personal interest in ones healthy lifestyle (info & venues are plentiful), better informed & responsible citizens within efficiently but sovereign managed governments- not the opposite! Thus- avoiding or delaying the introduction of a costly parallel funded private health care model- supplementing a crashing public one!

  5. avatar

    Can we afford the cost of physical inactivity?

    I don’t give a … S. Afford it ! That’s why we pay taxes. But if you ask such a intrusive and impertinent question here my answer :
    I don’t feel guilty at all for my personal choices.

  6. avatar
    Paul X

    Unfortunately lack of exercise is now endemic in society driven by young peoples inability to detach themselves from their PC/X-Box/Playstation and get outside and run around.
    If you spend your youth sitting on your @rse its very hard to motivate yourself in later life

  7. avatar
    Rui Duarte

    Inactivity is good. «Activity» wears off articulations.. artritis.. reumatic..

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Great!………and with the “savings” we can afford more smoking?
      1st April: a 365 days EU occurrence? Fact or folklore?

      “Disproportionate health care cost increases outstripped the rest of the economy ~five-fold and wages ~50 times since 1960”. Health assessments & insurance surcharges for “April fools” a must!

  8. avatar
    catherine benning

    You politicians make me physically sick. You promote unatural and foolhardy propositions and policies to the citizens of your states and then try to pretend it is they who are to blame for your incompetence. The French had it right when they rid themslevs of the fools in power centuries ago.

    First of all, you, the governments of our countries, took away healthy activity in schools. First by doing away with the sports fields and playgounds, selling them off. Followed by abandoning PE and school games because you could no longer teach the three R’s, leading to the mental absurdity called health and safety,l you plonk on us daily. All this crock as a result of too many women in jobs and office running the nanny show, with your politically correct dogma on more women, do away with men campaign, regardless of the female ability to judge sensibly on any susposedly ‘risky’ behaviour. For gods sake, you now have it where getting out of bed is considered risk taking.

    Then, once our children became totally sedentary, you push on them computer activity, to such an extent it has become an addiction. They are glued to them with eye and hand. Now you claim they grow into clones of the American lifestyle you copied, grossly fat illiterate hogs on your sanctioned GM foods and fast food chains. Done to keep their mothers working as slaves by not having to worry about mealtimes and shopping. All in the name of keeping the rich richer. Now, you want to discuss whether we can sustain what you initiated, as you go about perpetually ridicule of the population in order to raise it.

    Added to that, is the incompetence we see as you continue to sustain immigration levels from a world of grotesque misery from outside our borders, currently foisted on our lifestyle and culture at a rate that is suicidal? Do you realise that not only is this influx of people, at the tax payers expense, but you are systematically doing away with our paid for welfare, health services, social services, benefits, sewage systems, dwelling houses, safety, infrastructure, education, civilisation and social comfort that goes with it? Or, will you be asking the dumb question next year of whether we can sustain a lifestyle we have fought hard for and so long to achieve.Have we been taken over by an alien society that has lost all sense of decency? And done with not once asking our consent to do this.

    Fat and physical inactivity is one of the easist changes in our society to put right. Look back at what Hitler (or is the history too offensive because the leader was allowed to go mad unstopped) did for German people during the thirties and see what that kind of encouragement costs. Practically nothing in comparison to the joke sequence of events you have placed on our heads, without once asking us to vote on any of it. Whilst lying to us by pretending you were not going to keep this up any longer. Right now It is out of control. Are you all mad?

    Get out of here.

  9. avatar

    There is a problem of lack of time (work, child, do the lunch), money (some activities are expensive like pilates which is good for poeple inactive since a long time), possibilities (not everybody has the chance to work in an organization which offers activities and not everybody has the chance to come to work walking or biking). There is also a cultural way of life and the way we feel sport.

    • avatar

      To conclude, I have to say : can we afford this cost? No.
      How can wa act? At different scales, with regulation &funding, sensibilisation… It will take time but we have to change our habits and create new opportunities…
      Also, the culture of being sitting all day long at a desk must be changed : others way to work exist

  10. avatar

    I completely agree with Catherine Benning, but there is more.
    – Governments flex to the car and truck industries and ignore public transportation.
    – Then governments flex to the construction and cement industries and build highways and motorways and garages for lots more cars.
    – In addition governments flex to the real estate developers and build unlivable cubes that generally go by the name of “apartments or flats” with minimal space for playgrounds.
    – All the while allowing employment locations to be miles away from living locations and expect people to spend 2 or 3 or more hours per day going and coming from work… always sitting in cars… and then still stop somewhere to exercise.
    – After all this come the “fitness centers”, these enclosures where people are supposed to exercise in machines that differ very little from “hamster cages”.
    – And in the end people are supposed to be fit by living in boxes, riding cars and exercising like hamsters.
    Is this what you call “plenty venues and opportunities”?
    This is the scenario that has been created by government city planners.
    Lack of exercise or the sedentariness of our populations are a symptom of a bigger problem, not the problem itself.

  11. avatar
    Ariste Arvanitides

    No. We need real food, NO GMO, and real exercise (in nature not in a sweat shop), and real cultural interface with people. What we are getting is no exercise, poison instead of food, a coming Agenda 21, and companies running the world for their profit instead of politicians for their populations (TPP and TTIP) Bad news. In the end everyone will lose, and the system will die and have to reboot.

  12. avatar
    Ariste Arvanitides

    No. We need real food, NO GMO, and real exercise (in nature not in a sweat shop), and real cultural interface with people. What we are getting is no exercise, poison instead of food, a coming Agenda 21, and companies running the world for their profit instead of politicians for their populations (TPP and TTIP) Bad news. In the end everyone will lose, and the system will die and have to reboot.

  13. avatar

    A healthy mind lives in a healthy body ! An Ancient Greek proverb that to a very good extent is correct!
    I believe that the state has the responsibility to inform its citizens on health issues , inspect the public health and provide the means for people to live an active healthy life ! Schools could be the best starting point ! After all gymnastics is most students favourite class . I am against punishing with extra cost people who suffer from a disease , even if they contributed by their lifestyle. Democracy does not punish

  14. avatar
    Katherine Anne Oakwood

    I think it is important for a healthy lifestyle but I wonder whether we are going too far? I think the constant exposure to health campaigns can have negative impacts of people, such as in adverts. In ads we are shown the ‘correct’ or ‘desired’ way cooperations think people should look. People are pressured to look thin or muscular and if they are not then they feel inadequate and can suffer mental diseases because of it. I think if we want to introduce people to healthy living we should address advertising as this is fast becoming one of the major opinion changer/maker industries. We should educate people that its good to be healthy but there is nothing wrong with eating the odd chocolate bar or two.

  15. avatar
    John Miller

    Governments (ie taxpayers) that think they can continue to pick up the tab for privately-generated body system dysfunctions have another think coming. Sooner or later there has to be a tax impost on people in just plain bad shape.

    Here’s the test:

    If you can’t get to the bronze award you pay for heath care – either as part of the tax system or through compulsory medical benefit insurance.

    There’s a flaws in this argument, but I’m reluctant to expose it.

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