DISEASE PREVENTION: Inactivity Costs Americans $24 billion
Called a conservative estimate, the total health care costs resulting from inactivity is approximately $24.3 billion, according to a study published in the American College of Sports Medicine journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital researcher Graham Colditz analyzed studies that estimated the 1995 preventable costs associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer and hip fractures associated with osteoporosis and found that "damage done by lack of exercise was huge." Lack of exercise accounted for 22% each of heart disease, colon cancer and osteoporotic fractures and 12% of diabetes, Colditz found. He said, "Approximately 2.4% of all health care costs in 1995 are due to or the result of lack of physical activity." Colditz added that the actual number may be even higher. He said that other medical conditions not incorporated into the study could double the $24 billion in health care costs. In addition, the study did not take into account state-level reports that found nearly 48% of Americans do not engage in enough physical activity to gain health benefits. If those estimates were included, Colditz said that "we estimate the costs of inactivity as $37.2 billion (3.7% of direct health care costs)." He said, "The challenge I think we face is to find a way to get people to incorporate some exercise back into their daily lives. We have succeeded in designing a society that has removed the need for energy expenditure." He advocated programs that increase activity as the best way to solve the problem. CDC officials concur and are beginning to develop programs that encourage greater physical activity. However, the programs could be more costly than the cost of care. Americans spent $10 billion on health clubs last year and an additional $14 billion on exercise-related equipment. Larry Weindruch, spokesperson for the National Sporting Goods Association, said that the tradeoff may be a good deal. "It's a dollar better spent doing the activity to make my life healthier and more enjoyable than to fix something that's broken," he said (Dreyfuss, AP/Nando Times, 11/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.