Physical inactivity costs almost one per cent of GDP

Physical inactivity is costing the country a fortune, according to a new joint local government study. Auckland Council, Waikato Regional Council and the Wellington Regional Strategy Committee (which represents all the councils in the Wellington region) recently commissioned the study to examine the full costs of physical inactivity in their regions.

The study released today, during the Wellington Regional Strategy Committee meeting, shows that physical inactivity in the Auckland, Waikato and Wellington regions, where about half the country’s population live, costs $648 million a year.

The cost for the whole country was approximately $1.3 billion, or 0.7% of total GDP, in 2010.

Using what is known as full cost accounting, the study found that physical inactivity cost $402 million in Auckland, $106 million in Waikato and $140 million in Wellington.

Sir John Anderson, Chair of the Wellington Regional Strategy Committee, says physical inactivity is globally recognised as the fourth-leading cause of death and a global public health priority.

“It is as serious a risk factor as smoking or obesity in causing a range of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

“Local government plays an important role in motivating and providing the infrastructure for people’s physical activity, including providing transport infrastructure, active transport opportunities such as cycling, walking, public transport, walking buses, urban design and land use planning, and provision of parks and sport and leisure facilities,” he says.

The costs of physical inactivity are separated into direct health costs associated with treatment in the health care system, indirect health costs associated with living with disability/disease and dying prematurely and other costs associated with physical inactivity, including promoting activity and information campaigns relating to physical well-being.

The study found that the costs of treating cardiovascular diseases attributed to physical inactivity are the highest and, of cardiovascular diseases, strokes are the costliest. Coronary heart disease had the highest indirect costs for all regions, largely due to the high mortality rates associated with this disease. This was followed by colorectal cancer in Wellington and Auckland, whereas, in Waikato stroke was second highest.

The commissioning of a joint report such as this, is a new approach for councils, and may give them the ability to understand the true costs of aspects of our economy or environment that never get properly valued.

“The economic impacts of physical inactivity in Auckland, Wellington and Waikato are considerable,” he says.

“We’re concerned about this because of the costs of health to everyone. As councils, if we can help reduce the impact on that system then some of those savings could be re-directed to other areas.”

Additional information

Regional summary of direct, indirect and other costs attributed to physical Inactivity (2010) $m

Direct costs Indirect costs ‘Other’ costs* Total costs

Premature Deaths



















New Zealand







*Note: ‘Other’ costs are preliminary estimates

** Totals may not equal, due to rounding

Note: Physical inactivity is a serious public health issue in New Zealand, as it is in many other countries of the world. In a recent major report by the Lancet medical journal, New Zealand ranked 27th out of 122 countries for being physically inactive, with nearly 50 per cent of the population not engaging in enough physical activity. Australia, our nearest neighbour and often our benchmark for international comparisons, did better than New Zealand, rating 52nd with 38 per cent of the population inactive.

The full report can be viewed here:

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