The global cost of physical inactivity for 2013 has been calculated at $US67.5 billion ($AU90 billion), in a world first study by the University of Sydney.
The findings, published in the journal Lancet, include the cost burden of lifestyle diseases on health budgets as well as the cost of premature death relating to physical inactivity.
The burden in developing countries was calculated differently because the consequences of lifestyle diseases is often premature death.
Sydney University senior research fellow Melody Ding said the cost included the healthcare expenses linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
“These are the diseases associated with physical inactivity,” Dr Ding said.
“It also includes the cost of productivity losses when people die prematurely because of physical inactivity.”
The study included data from 142 countries, taking in 93.2 per cent of the global population.
Australia shared a huge portion of the cost.
In 2013, the total cost burden of physical inactivity on the Australian economy was $805 million, including $640 million in direct costs and $165 million in productivity losses.
‘Disguised fitness’ integrated into the workplace
More recently workplaces have taken on the task of encouraging people to physically move around more, with changes to office design and layout, creating so-called activity-based workplaces.
Some of Australia’s biggest companies have adopted the model including Macquarie Bank, Microsoft and accounting firm KPMG.
Andrew May is a partner of the Performance Clinic at KPMG, a section of the firm designed to help organisations increase the productivity and performance of their staff.
He is pushing for staff to move as often as possible in a regime he calls “disguised fitness”.
“We try and get most people to get 10,000 steps a day, so disguised fitness is stuff like a walk-and-talk meeting, so rather than us sitting down and having a conversation, if it was a one-on-one we’d go for a walk down by the water or out around the park so you can do that in groups of three or four people,” he said.
“I think overall it’s about making wellbeing a part of your culture, so to the companies that still don’t look at that I’d say ‘wake up and smell the coffee beans’ — we’ve moved a long from thinking physical activity is for the jocks or the lucky few.”
The head of People, Performance & Culture at KPMG, Susan Ferrier, said the company benefits when the employees are healthy.
“If we do this design we’ve got more to gain and we’re going to have people who are more enthusiastic, more engaged, more productive, more creative, more innovative,” she said.
Director of Health Economics at Cornell University, Professor John Cawley, said governments and businesses now needed to look at how to use these figures to prevent people from developing so-called lifestyle-related illnesses.
“I think absolutely we should be thinking about ways to incentivise people being physically active, not using sticks but using carrots,” Professor Cawley said.
“Making it in people’s interests to live a healthy lifestyle, probably paired with taxes on energy dense food, financial rewards for weight loss so it should really be part of a package of policies,” he said.