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Chiropractic Research Review

More Physical Activity = Less Health Care Expenditures

Although substantial evidence links physical activity with reduced rates of illness and death, the effect of physical inactivity on direct medical costs is not well-established. Previous research has suggested that $4.3 to $5.6 billion may be saved annually if 10% of sedentary adults simply began a walking program.

In an effort to examine the potential cost savings available, the authors of this study examined direct medical expenses of active and inactive men and women, using the actual medical expenditures of a nationally representative sample. Data were extracted from the 1987 National Medical Expenditures Survey: a face-to-face interview survey involving 35,000 U.S. consumers from 14,000 households.

Respondents who reported at least 30 minutes of moderate or strenuous physical activity three or more times per week were classified as physically active; those who performed less activity were classified as inactive. Respondents also provided information on total medical costs in 1987, including hospital admissions, acute and preventive physician visits, prescription medication use, and financing of these expenditures, with the results presented as follows:

* The average annual direct medical costs were substantially lower in active respondents compared with inactive respondents ($1,242 vs. $2,277). This difference was maintained even when adjusting for the presence of physical limitations ($1,019 vs. $1,349).

* When including smoking status in the analysis, smokers who were physically active also reported reduced medical costs compared with those who were inactive ($1,081 vs. $1,987).

* Overall, active respondents had fewer hospital stays, physician visits, and use of medications compared with inactive respondents, with the major savings derived from lower hospitalization costs ($391 for active, $613 for inactive).

* The largest difference in direct medical costs was among women 55 and older, suggesting that older women in particular may benefit physically and economically from interventions to increase physical activity.

In their conclusion, the authors state that physical activity saved $330 dollars per person, equating to $29.2 billion dollars in 1987. Calculated to the present dollar value, this equals $76.6 billion in the year 2000 alone!

Note: Many studies have demonstrated the numerous benefits of even mild exercise. Perhaps a potential savings of health dollar expenditures is another motivator to get patients exercising?

Pratt M, Macera CA, Wang G. Higher direct medical costs associated with physical inactivity. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, Oct. 2000:28(10), pp1-11.

Chiropractic Research Review

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