Cost-effectiveness of population-level physical activity interventions: a systematic review

Am J Health Promot. 2014 Nov-Dec;29(2):71-80. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.131210-LIT-622.


Objective: This systematic review synthesizes the evidence on the cost-effectiveness of population-level interventions to promote physical activity.

Data source: A systematic literature search was conducted between May and August 2013 in four databases: PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, and SPORTDiscus.

Study inclusion and exclusion criteria: Only primary and preventive interventions aimed at promoting and maintaining physical activity in wide population groups were included. An economic evaluation of both effectiveness and cost was required. Secondary interventions and interventions targeting selected population groups or focusing on single individuals were excluded.

Data extraction: Interventions were searched for in six different categories: (1) environment, (2) built environment, (3) sports clubs and enhanced access, (4) schools, (5) mass media and community-based, and (6) workplace.

Data synthesis: The systematic search yielded 2058 articles, of which 10 articles met the selection criteria. The costs of interventions were converted to costs per person per day in 2012 U.S. dollars. The physical activity results were calculated as metabolic equivalent of task hours (MET-hours, or MET-h) gained per person per day. Cost-effectiveness ratios were presented as dollars per MET-hours gained. The intervention scale and the budget impact of interventions were taken into account.

Results: The most efficient interventions to increase physical activity were community rail-trails ($.006/MET-h), pedometers ($.014/MET-h), and school health education programs ($.056/MET-h).

Conclusion: Improving opportunities for walking and biking seems to increase physical activity cost-effectively. However, it is necessary to be careful in generalizing the results because of the small number of studies. This review provides important information for decision makers.

Keywords: Economics; Exercise; Health focus: fitness/ physical activity; Manuscript format: literature review; Motor Activity; Outcome measure: other financial/economic; Population; Program Evaluation; Research purpose: intervention testing/program evaluation; Setting: workplace, school, local community, state/national; Strategy: skill building/ behavior change, incentives, policy; Study design: content analysis; Target population: youth, adults, seniors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Exercise
  • Health Promotion / economics*
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity*