In the U.K., doctors are writing exercise prescriptions for their patients. While it is not an entirely new practice over there, it would be revolutionary on this side of the pond.

Imagine this; instead of billions upon billions of dollars being spent on treating disease, we spent a fraction of that money on preventing disease.

In 2000, the total cost of obesity in the United States was estimated to be $117 billion. About $61 billion was for direct medical costs, and $56 billion was for indirect costs. That number is likely to increase as the Percentage of Adults Who Report Being Obese, increases year after year.

A study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has recently estimated that each physically-active person saves the health care system over $300 annually relative to an inactive person.

With the current U.S. population at 303,980,933, that would work out to a potential savings of $91,194,279,900

In Canada:

  • A study done in 1995 for the Ontario Government called The Relationship between Physical Fitness and the Cost of Health Care, estimated that OHIP medical claim costs could be reduced by $31 million a year if all Ontario adults (aged 20-69) had at least an average level of fitness.
  • Based on CDC study mentioned above, the 63% of Canadians who are still inactive cost the health system $5.7B more than if they were active.
  • In the Economic Burden of Illness in Canada, Health Canada reports that the total direct cost (drugs, physicians, hospitals, research) of illness in 1993 was $44 billion out of an overall cost for health care in Canada of $70 billion.Moreover, the indirect costs such as time lost due to long-term and short-term disabilities, and the present value of future productivity lost due to premature mortality and illness in Canada represents an estimated economic value of $129 billion — nearly 21% of the GDP. Reducing the number of inactive Canadians by a further 10% would result in an additional saving of $5 billion.

So what do we do?

In a Cost-Benefit Analysis of Physical Activity Using Bike/Pedestrian Trails, it was found that every $1 investment (construction, maintenance, equipment and travel) in exercise trails led to $2.94 in direct medical benefit.

A 2004 paper, published the in American Journal of Preventive Medicine has a variety of intervention strategies.

But at the end of the day, all government can do is try to coax us, bribe us or threaten us into adopting a healthier lifestyle. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to make the conscious decision. Isn’t the benefit of living an active and healthy life worth the cost?