Applying economic evaluation to public health interventions: the case of interventions to promote physical activity

J Public Health (Oxf). 2013 Mar;35(1):32-9. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fds050. Epub 2012 Jul 2.


Background: This paper explores the application of alternative approaches to economic evaluation of public health interventions, using a worked example of exercise referral schemes (ERSs).

Methods: Cost-utility (CUA) and cost-consequence analyses (CCA) were used to assess the cost-effectiveness of ERSs. For the CUA, evidence was synthesized using a decision analytic model that adopts a lifetime horizon and NHS/Personal Social Services perspective. Outcomes were expressed as incremental cost per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY). CCA was conducted from a partial-societal perspective, including health and non-healthcare costs and benefits. Outcomes were reported in natural units, such as cases of strokes or CHD avoided.

Results: Compared with usual care, the incremental cost per QALY of ERS is £20 876. Based on a cohort of 100 000 individuals, CCA estimates cost of ERS at £22 million to the healthcare provider and £12 million to participants. The benefits of ERS include additional 3900 people becoming physically active, 51 cases of CHD avoided, 16 cases of stroke avoided, 86 cases of diabetes avoided and a gain of ∼800 QALYs.

Conclusions: CCA might provide greater transparency than CUA in reporting the outcomes of public health interventions and have greater resonance with stakeholders involved in commissioning these interventions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Promotion / economics*
  • Healthy People Programs
  • Humans
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Sensitivity and Specificity