Health and economic burden of insufficient physical activity in Saudi Arabia

PLoS One. 2024 Apr 10;19(4):e0297278. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0297278. eCollection 2024.


Background: Insufficient physical activity (PA) was estimated to cause 4.8% of deaths and 2.6% of disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) due to noncommunicable diseases in Saudi Arabia in 2019. While Saudi Arabia is already achieving great improvements, we predict the health and economic burden of insufficient PA up to 2040 to present a case for policy makers to invest more in the uptake of PA.

Methods: Using a population health model to estimate avoidable health loss, we identified four causes of health loss related to low PA (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer) and estimated the deaths and DALYs from these causes. We projected the expected disease burden until 2040 under alternative assumptions about future PA levels and trends by using three health scenarios: baseline (no change in 2019 PA levels), intervention (81% of the population achieving sufficient PA levels), and ideal (65% of population: moderate PA, 30%: high PA, and 5%: inactive). We applied an "intrinsic value" approach to estimate the economic impact of each scenario.

Results: Overall, we estimate that between 2023 and 2040, about 80,000 to 110,000 deaths from all causes and 2.0 million to 2.9 million DALYs could be avoided by increasing PA levels in Saudi Arabia. The average annual economic loss from insufficient PA is valued at 0.49% to 0.68% of the current gross domestic product, with an average of US$5.4 billion to US$7.6 billion annually till 2040. The most avoidable disease burden and economic losses are expected among males and because of ischemic heart disease.

Conclusions: This study highlights that low PA levels will have considerable health and economic impacts in Saudi Arabia if people remain inactive and do not start following interventions. There is an urgent need to develop innovative programs and policies to encourage PA among all age and sex groups.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases*
  • Cost of Illness
  • Financial Stress*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Saudi Arabia / epidemiology

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center and World Bank. Financing for the analysis was provided by the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center and the Health, Nutrition, and Population Reimbursable Advisory Services Programs between the World Bank and the Ministry of Finance in Saudi Arabia (P172148 and P179873). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center or the World Bank, or the governments they represent. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.