Should we invest in environmental interventions to encourage physical activity in England? An economic appraisal

Eur J Public Health. 2012 Dec;22(6):869-73. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckr151. Epub 2012 Feb 24.


Background: The Department of Health in England asked the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to develop guidance on environmental interventions that promote physical activity. The economic appraisals summarized in this study informed the development of that guidance. In view of the difficulties inherent in applying conventional health economic evaluation techniques to public health interventions, the economic appraisal employed a multi-faceted approach.

Methods: The analyses comprised of three components. Two cost-utility analyses; the first used a life-time disease progression model which sought to take into account the long-term benefits of physical activity on health outcomes, whereas the second used data from a regression analysis which captured some of the short-term, process benefits of physical activity which might manifest themselves in terms of improved mental health and wellbeing. The third approach was a cost-benefit analysis that took into account benefits beyond healthcare.

Results: The cost-utility approaches generated cost-effectiveness estimates ranging between £100 and £10 000 per QALY depending on the level of effectiveness of the intervention and the proportion of the intervention cost that was deemed to be attributable to health. The standardized cost-benefit ratio was 11:1.

Conclusion: The findings present a consistent case to support environmental interventions that promote increased physical activity in the sedentary adult population. However, some degree of caution should be taken in interpreting the findings due to the limitations of the evidence upon which they are based. Further consideration should also be given to the relative merits of alternative approaches to assessing the value of changes to the built environment that might also benefit health as a positive externality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / methods*
  • England
  • Environment Design / economics*
  • Environment*
  • Health Promotion / economics*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity*
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Regression Analysis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires