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The Economic Impact of Physical Activity in New Zealand

In New Zealand, a nation celebrated for its active lifestyle, the cost of physical inactivity is becoming increasingly disturbing. A recent Deloitte report reveals significant financial burdens stemming from a lack of physical activity, with implications not only for healthcare but for the broader economy. In round numbers, a lack of physical activity costs the country on average about $2500 annually for every New Zealander.

The Current State: Physical Inactivity and Its Costs

Physical inactivity is a global health concern, and New Zealand is not immune. The Deloitte report highlights that a significant portion of the New Zealand population does not meet the recommended levels of physical activity, leading to various health issues. These health problems, ranging from heart diseases to diabetes, not only diminish the quality of life for many but also place a hefty financial burden on the healthcare system.

According to the report, the direct healthcare costs associated with physical inactivity are staggering. This includes expenses related to hospital admissions, outpatient visits, and medications. Furthermore, there are indirect costs such as lost productivity due to sick days, early retirement, and even mortality.

Breaking Down the Numbers: The Cost of Inactivity

Deloitte's analysis offers a comprehensive breakdown of the costs. The direct medical costs are just the tip of the iceberg. When considering the indirect costs, like reduced productivity and early mortality, the economic impact is much larger. For instance, the report estimates that physical inactivity leads to thousands of lost working days each year, translating into millions of dollars in lost productivity.

Moreover, the burden on the healthcare system is not to be underestimated. Hospitals and medical services devote substantial resources to treating conditions that could be mitigated or prevented by regular physical activity. This strain on resources affects not only the healthcare sector but also impacts the wider economy.

The Potential Savings: A More Active Population

The silver lining in the Deloitte report is the potential savings that could be realised if more New Zealanders engaged in regular physical activity. By increasing the population's activity levels, New Zealand could significantly reduce healthcare costs and improve productivity.

The report provides scenarios where even a small percentage increase in physical activity levels across the population could lead to millions of dollars in savings. These savings come from reduced healthcare costs, fewer hospital admissions, and a decline in the need for long-term healthcare for chronic conditions.

Moreover, the benefits extend beyond financial savings. A more active population would likely see improvements in mental health, reduced rates of obesity, and a higher overall quality of life. These social benefits, while harder to quantify, are just as important as the economic ones.

Challenges and Opportunities

Encouraging a more active lifestyle in New Zealand comes with its challenges. Factors like urban design, availability of sports facilities, and socio-economic barriers play a crucial role in determining physical activity levels. The Deloitte report suggests that addressing these issues requires a multi-faceted approach involving government policy, community initiatives, and individual commitment.

However, these challenges also present opportunities. For instance, investment in public infrastructure that promotes physical activity, such as parks and bike lanes, not only aids in increasing activity levels but also enhances community well-being. Similarly, workplace initiatives that encourage active lifestyles can contribute to a more productive and healthier workforce.

Quite simply New Zealand, this is a call to action. It highlights the need for concerted efforts to boost physical activity levels. In a time where successive governments talk about cutting costs, why are we not looking to the future and reducing our health care bill, as well as the strain on our health system? The recent abolishment of the smoke free legislation is yet another example of only looking as far ahead as the next election, when instead we need leadership and foresight into what can be achieved 10,20, and 30 years and beyond, not just in healthcare savings but the improved wellbeing of our future generations. 

The journey to a more active New Zealand requires collaboration and commitment across various sectors, aiming for a healthier and more economically sustainable future.

Jimmy August - ReDefined Founder

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