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MayaMohan2 Posted by:
Maya Mohan, Department of Public Health

Maya is the Physical Activity Coordinator for DPH.

Spending too much time sitting on the couch is costly.  Not just for our health – but for our wallets too.  And, in light of the lively healthcare debates going on all over the country, I thought this might be a good time to talk about how much money being overweight and inactive is costing us – you, me and our healthcare system. 

Here’s some data I’d like to share with you.  In 2000, the total cost of obesity was estimated at $117 billion.  In the same year, physical inactivity (among adults) cost $76 billion.  The glass-half-full way of looking at this is if all inactive American adults became active, we would save $76 billion (in 2000 dollars).  I think it’s safe to say these numbers would be a little bit higher in 2009.   

Let me restate this plainly:  We are spending a ton of money (pun intended) treating issues that are caused by us NOT MOVING ENOUGH.   

But, there is some good news – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if just 10% of adults starting walking regularly we could save $5.6 billion per year in costs related to treating heart disease.  Additionally, if an overweight person loses (and keeps off) 10% of their weight, they will reduce their medical costs by $2,200 – $5,300 over their lifetime. 

So, what does all this mean?  Well, basically, we need to do a better job of creating environments that support and allow everyone to be active and lead healthy lifestyles.   One thing we can do is to re-allocate resources within our communities and organizations so that funds are used more efficiently to support policies, places and spaces that will get more people moving.  

Ok, you may be saying, “What resources?”  Well, yes, I hear you. But there are resources out there.  We must be persuasive in our arguments as to why those limited funds should be spent on strategies to support and promote prevention. 

Check out this “Physical Inactivity Calculator” from East Carolina University.  This is a quick way to determine an estimate of costs related to medical care, worker’s compensation and lost productivity associated with inactivity at a community or organizational level.  These numbers can be very powerful and should be used to make informed decisions on how to disperse resources throughout a community or organization.   

Just plug in some basic information and, voila!  In a few minutes, you’ll have concrete (estimate) numbers on how much money physical inactivity is costing your organization, and how much money your organization can save if only 5% more people in your organization became active. 

This is a powerful tool for policymakers, community leaders, employers, and organizations to see what the bottom line is when we collectively sit on our bottoms for too long. 

Try this out for the town you live in or for an organization you belong to – what numbers do you come up with?  Do you think this information will help decision makers’ value and fund prevention efforts in your community or organization?  I would love to hear your thoughts! 

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