Background: Sedentary and inactive lifestyle continues to increase and is associated with a substantial economic burden in most industrialised countries. To implement effective physical activity interventions on a broad population basis, their cost-effectiveness needs to be evaluated.
Objective: To evaluate the cost-effectiveness of physical activity interventions targeted at healthy adults and to identify cost-effective intervention components.
Design: Systematic review.
Methods and data sources: The search strategy in electronic databases identified relevant literature published until June 2008. We included studies investigating the cost-effectiveness of interventions aiming to promote physical activity behaviour in healthy adults. Two researchers independently assessed publications according to predefined inclusion criteria and with regard to methodological quality. Study characteristics and predefined outcome measures were extracted and costs per participant to become sufficiently active were compared between interventions.
Results: Out of 6543 identified publications, eight studies investigating 11 intervention strategies met the inclusion criteria. There was substantial heterogeneity in study quality, intervention strategies and intervention effects. Behavioural interventions were able to promote physical activity, with participants meeting recommended levels of physical activity, for about 800 Euros per year. Environmental interventions and interventions targeted at general practitioners seemed to have the potential to be substantially more cost-effective.
Discussion: There was evidence that current physical activity intervention strategies can be a cost-effective means of resource allocation. But, despite the growing literature on physical activity promotion, appropriate cost-effectiveness analyses are rare and the generalisability of presented findings is limited. Further research is warranted to investigate the cost-effectiveness of behavioural and environmental intervention strategies.
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Competing interests: None.