Background: A large proportion of disease burden is attributed to behavioural risk factors. However, funding for public health programs in Australia remains limited. Government and non-government organisations are interested in the productivity effects on society from reducing chronic diseases. We aimed to estimate the potential health status and economic benefits to society following a feasible reduction in the prevalence of six behavioural risk factors: tobacco smoking; inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption; high risk alcohol consumption; high body mass index; physical inactivity; and intimate partner violence.
Methods: Simulation models were developed for the 2008 Australian population. A realistic reduction in current risk factor prevalence using best available evidence with expert consensus was determined. Avoidable disease, deaths, Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) and health sector costs were estimated. Productivity gains included workforce (friction cost method), household production and leisure time. Multivariable uncertainty analyses and correction for the joint effects of risk factors on health status were undertaken. Consistent methods and data sources were used.
Results: Over the lifetime of the 2008 Australian adult population, total opportunity cost savings of AUD2,334 million (95% Uncertainty Interval AUD1,395 to AUD3,347; 64% in the health sector) were found if feasible reductions in the risk factors were achieved. There would be 95,000 fewer DALYs (a reduction of about 3.6% in total DALYs for Australia); 161,000 less new cases of disease; 6,000 fewer deaths; a reduction of 5 million days in workforce absenteeism; and 529,000 increased days of leisure time.
Conclusions: Reductions in common behavioural risk factors may provide substantial benefits to society. For example, the total potential annual cost savings in the health sector represent approximately 2% of total annual health expenditure in Australia. Our findings contribute important new knowledge about productivity effects, including the potential for increased household and leisure activities, associated with chronic disease prevention. The selection of targets for risk factor prevalence reduction is an important policy decision and a useful approach for future analyses. Similar approaches could be applied in other countries if the data are available.