Increasing the percentage of elementary school children in the United States who partake in 25 minutes of physical activity three times a week from 32% to 50% could avert $21.9 billion in medical costs and lost wages over the course of their lifetimes, according to research recently published in Health Affairs.
“...Without knowing the current physical activity landscape in children and the potential impact of increasing the number of children who meet the guidelines, policy makers and funders might not know where a strategy to increase children’s physical activity should rank among many competing priorities,” Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA, executive director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. “Quantifying the resulting economic and health benefit would help decision makers understand the impact and priority of such a strategy.”
Lee and colleagues created a computational simulation model that characterized the current population of U.S. children and showed how changes in physical activity levels could affect them throughout their lifetime and the resulting economic impact. The model used the Virtual Population for Obesity Prevention platform and data from the National Center for Health Statistics and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Researchers stated that 31.9% of children aged 8 to 11 years currently exercise for 25 minutes a day, 3 times a week. They increased the exercise increments until they reached 100% of the children meeting this requirement.
Lee and colleagues found that by increasing the proportion of children meeting that threshold to 50% would:
•avoid $13.8 billion in lost productivity and $8.1 billion in direct medical costs;
•decrease the number of youths who are obese or overweight by 340,443 (or 4.18%); and
•lead to 10.86% fewer strokes; 2.03% fewer coronary heart disease cases; 36,112 (or 0.35%) fewer type 2 diabetes cases; and 31,791 or (0.22%) fewer cancer cases.
Increasing the proportion of children meeting that threshold to 75% would:
•avert $16.6 billion in direct medical costs and $23.6 billion in lost productivity;
•decrease the number of youths who obese or overweight by 803,785 (or 9.87%); and
•lead to 376,480 (or 12.07%) fewer strokes; 272,384 (or 3.57%) fewer coronary heart disease cases; 190,400 (or 1.86%) fewer type 2 diabetes cases; and 291,897 (or 2.02%) fewer cancer cases.
Increasing the proportion of children meeting that threshold to 100% would:
•avoid $51.5 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in lost productivity;
•decrease the number of youths who are obese or overweight by 4,113,570 (or 50.52%); and
•lead to 696,577 (or 22.32%) fewer strokes; 799,892 (or 10.49%) fewer coronary heart disease cases; 647,531 (or 6.33%) fewer type 2 diabetes cases and 771,324 (or 5.34%) fewer cancer cases.
Researchers also stated that the averted costs are likely underestimated, since physical activity enhances mood and bone density and builds muscle, but does not impact weight.
“Physical activity not only makes kids feel better and helps them develop healthy habits, it's also good for the nation’s bottom line,” Lee said in a press release. “We need to be adding physical education programs and not cutting them. We need to encourage kids to be active, to reduce screen time and get them running around again. It’s important for their physical health — and the nation’s financial health.” – by Janel Miller
Healio Family Medicine was unable to determine researchers’ relevant financial disclosures prior to publication.