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The cost of physical inactivity: moving into the 21st century
  1. Michael Pratt1,
  2. Jeffrey Norris2,
  3. Felipe Lobelo1,
  4. Larissa Roux3,
  5. Guijing Wang4
  1. 1Global Health Promotion Office, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  2. 2University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
  3. 3Health Economics Program, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  4. 4Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michael Pratt, Global Health Promotion Office, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Mail Stop K-40, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA; mpratt{at}cdc.gov

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Physical inactivity is increasingly being recognised as a major problem in global health. The WHO estimates that 3.3 million people die around the world each year due to physical inactivity, making it the fourth leading underlying cause of mortality.1 Physical activity has beneficial effects on 23 diseases or health conditions.2 However, in most countries fewer than half of adults are active enough to reap most of these benefits.3 ,4 Given that inactivity increases the risk for many of the most costly medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, ischaemic heart disease, falls and hip fractures, and depression, it is not surprising that physical inactivity has a substantial cost burden in addition to a large health burden.

Momentum is gathering: action steps

Despite impressive health and economic consequences, it is only recently that addressing physical inactivity has become a mainstream part of public health and health policy.5 However, this is clearly occurring. The WHO Global Action Plan for NCDs emphasises physical activity as an important element of primary and secondary prevention, WHO released a global recommendations for physical activity in 2010,6 the September 2011 United Nations General Assembly Summit on NCDs prominently include physical activity4 and national public health policy in influential countries such as Brazil and the USA substantively incorporates physical activity promotion.7 ,8 However, these are initial steps in addressing a global epidemic of NCDs and inactivity. The gap between the size of the problem and the scale of the public health response remains large. In such situations, effective advocacy is called for9 and often times this means economic data which highlight the costs of not taking action. This seems to be an argument for more and better analyses and research publications on the costs of physical inactivity. However, in the following paragraphs …

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