Prevention better than cure to ease national health burden

Australia should urgently adopt a national plan to increase physical activity after a new report found billions of dollars were being wasted on managing diseases that could be prevented simply by getting people more active.

Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) said the report should be a wake-up call for Australia to focus more on preventing disease through physical activity, which would also provide a financial lifeline for the overburdened health system.

The report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Economics of sport and physical activity participation and injury, reveals the staggering impact on healthcare spending, with $2.4 billion spent in 2018-19 on managing diseases caused by insufficient physical activity.

Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) Chief Executive Officer Anita Hobson-Powell said Australia was one of the few first world countries without a National Physical Activity Plan, putting more focus on treating disease rather than preventing it.

“In 2018, physical inactivity was responsible for 2.5 per cent of the total disease burden, impacting 122,683 people and contributing to 8,253 deaths in Australia,

“Historically, Australia has put preventative health dollars into grassroots sports. That is great for some, but not everyone likes and is connected to sport. Evidence supports the role of exercise and sports science professionals in increasing physical activity in the general population, including the effectiveness in whole-of-population strategies for preventing chronic disease and the effectiveness of healthy lifestyle interventions.

“Australia stands at a critical juncture. The AIHW report serves as a wake-up call to address the mounting health costs of physical inactivity. Embracing the expertise of exercise and sports science professionals, instituting a National Physical Activity Plan and dedicated funding for physical activity participation are the proactive steps needed to transform Australia’s health landscape.” Ms Hobson-Powell says.

Dr Sam Manger, GP and Lead for postgraduate Lifestyle Medicine at James Cook University, is also calling for more to be done in the health care system to tackle the growing sedentary lifestyle.
“Physical activity activates acute and long-term health mechanisms in virtually every organ system, and hence it’s benefits are quite profoundly biological, psychological, social and cultural at preventing disease, treating many disease states and supporting whole of person wellbeing,”

“We clearly need greater support and implementation in health services to provide lifestyle interventions more effectively.” says Dr Manger.