Economic burden of low physical activity and high sedentary behaviour in Finland

J Epidemiol Community Health. 2022 Apr 26;jech-2021-217998. doi: 10.1136/jech-2021-217998. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: Low physical activity and high sedentary behaviour are unquestionably relevant for public health while also increasing direct and indirect costs.

Methods: The authors examined the direct and indirect costs attributable to low physical activity and high sedentary behaviour in Finland in 2017. Costs related to major non-communicable diseases drawn from Finnish registries covered direct costs (outpatient visits, days of inpatient care, medication and institutional eldercare) and indirect costs (sickness-related absences, disability pensions, unemployment benefits, all-cause mortality and losses of income tax revenue). Prevalences of low physical activity and high sedentary behaviour (≥8 hours per 16 waking hours) were based on self-reports among adolescents or accelerometer data among adults and the elderly from three Finnish population studies: FINFIT 2017, Health 2011 and the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. Cost calculations used adjusted population attributable fractions (PAF) and regression models. Total annual costs were obtained by multiplying PAF by the total costs of the given disease.

Results: The total costs of low physical activity in Finland in 2017 came to approximately €3.2 billion, of which direct costs accounted for €683 million and indirect ones for €2.5 billion. Costs attributable to high sedentary behaviour totalled roughly €1.5 billion.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that low physical activity and high sedentary behaviour levels create substantial societal costs. Therefore, actions intended to increase physical activity and reduce excessive sedentary behaviour throughout life may yield not only better health but also considerable savings to society.

Keywords: economics; epidemiology; health promotion; public health; sick leave.