Move it or Lose it

16 Aug 2016

Physical inactivity incurs a conservative estimated global cost of $US67.5 billion a year, leading a Queensland researcher to emphasise that prevention should be a priority.

The University of Queensland School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences  Dr Tracy Kolbe-Alexander co-authored a two-year study released ahead of the 2016 Olympics.

"The study involved in-depth analysis of non-communicable diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer," Dr Kolbe-Alexander said.

"The cost of physical inactivity was calculated for 142 countries, representing 93 per cent of the global population.

"We took into account both the direct healthcare costs and the loss of productivity due to disability or death.

"Our estimate of $US67.5 billion was rather conservative and, if we used other economic models, the expense could be closer to $US145 billion."

The research, published in leading medical journal  The Lancet, placed Australia's share of the annual cost of physical inactivity at $US555.6 million, 67 per cent of which was paid for by the public sector.

Final numbers were reached by using data from the Global Burden of Disease study, International Diabetes Foundation, World Health Organisation, World Bank and International Labour Organisation.

Some diseases and conditions such as hypertension, metabolic syndrome and falls were not used in calculations, meaning the true cost was under-estimated.

"One thing we definitely did not do was exaggerate cost figures," Dr Kolbe-Alexander said.

"We hear so much about healthcare costs, particularly around budgetary and election times, but what seems to be lacking is discussion about preventative measures.

"One of the key messages of this paper is that prevention will not only improve the life of Australians, but also result in substantial healthcare savings."                                                                                        

Dr Kolbe-Alexander's study forms part of a special report by The Lancet, which has issued four major research papers on physical inactivity to coincide with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Two of the four papers feature UQ researchers.

Professor Wendy Brown contributed to research on the amount of physical exercise needed to offset the effects of sitting for eight hours a day.

Meanwhile Professor Brown, Dr Kolbe-Alexander and a visiting research scholar from Brazil, Gregore Mielke also wrote a published commentary about women's participation in sport.

Dr Kolbe Alexander has an adjunct appointment with the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Media: Dr Tracy Kolbe-Alexander, , +61 7 3365 6981; Robert Burgin at UQ Communications,,  +61 7 3346 3035, + 61 0448 410 364.