15 Feb 2013

Couch potatoes 'costing NZ $1bn a year'

6:29 am on 15 February 2013

New Zealanders' physical inactivity could be costing the country more than $1 billion dollars a year, a new report estimates.

The report, commissioned by the Auckland Council and Waikato and Wellington regional councils, says 50% of New Zealanders do not do any physical activity. An active person is defined as someone who does 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.

The study concludes the accumulated direct and indirect medical costs stemming from a lack of exercise amount to about $1.3 billion a year.

It breaks down the costs into four parts- the costs of medical treatment, living with a disability or disease and dying prematurely, and the money spent on the promotion of exercise.

The study found the biggest cost in all regions was for treating cardiovascular conditions caused by physical inactivity, strokes being the most costly.

Coronary heart disease had the highest indirect costs, largely due to the high mortality rate associated with it.

The director of the AUT's Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Grant Schofield, hopes it will prompt councils to make cities more walking and cycling friendly.

Otago University School of Physical Education lecturer Phil Handcock says the report hasn't revealed anything new. "I guess from one point of view I'm a little disappointed that we continue to spend money on research to find out that there is a problem instead of spending the money doing something about the problem."

The Waikato, Auckland and Wellington councils plan to team up with district health boards and other agencies to look at ways to get people off the couch and on to the pavement.