Physical inactivity costing New Zealand economy $2.3b a year

Lost production caused by physical inactivity costs the New Zealand economy $2.3 billion a year.

That's one of the shocking findings in a Deloitte report, commissioned by the international fitness industry, into the cost of inactivity.

It also costs the New Zealand health system $530 million a year, $440 million of which is borne by the public health system and picked up by the taxpayer.

While New Zealand is often seen as a sport-loving country, it appears we aren't an active country.

"We have this illusion that we are a sporting nation, so an active nation, the truth is we are not, we're a sport-watching nation," said Exercise New Zealand CEO Richard Beddie.

The reality is that we struggle to reach worldwide guidelines for recommended physical activity. That's exercise that can be as gentle as any movement during which you can still carry on a breathless conversation.

"New Zealand is actually one of the worst," Beddie said.

Forty-eight percent of Kiwi adults don't hit global activity targets. But it's far worse for our children and teenagers - an alarming 93 percent aren't active enough.

The global average is 21 percent for adults and 81 percent for kids and adolescents.

Among the 38 countries in the OECD, only Portugal, Colombia, and Costa Rica are ranked below New Zealand.

"One in four adults are not active enough and in New Zealand, that's nearly half the population that are not active enough," said World Health Organization (WHO) physical lead Dr Fiona Bull.

The WHO guidelines are an hour a day for kids and 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week or around 20 minutes a day for everyone else.

"All movement counts," Dr Bull said.

Sport NZ said New Zealand's inactivity has actually gotten worse over the last couple of years.

"No doubt, during COVID that's been a real challenge. People have got out of habit, particularly younger rangatahi," said Sport NZ chief executive Raelene Castle.

"The reality is post-COVID we saw a 16 percent drop in activity."

And It's well documented how bad inactivity is for our health.

"If exercise was a pill, it would be the most prescribed pill in the world. Fundamentally, it saves so many," Beddie said.

Every country has a physical activity scorecard, which shows the percentage of deaths inactivity is responsible for. In New Zealand it's 10.6 percent, whereas the global average is 9 percent.

And this huge cost to our health also has a huge economic cost.

Inactivity costs the health system $530 million a year, $440 million of which is picked up by the public health system.

At the same time, loss of productivity due to less efficiency and sick days, brought on by a lack of activity, is valued at a whopping $2.3 billion.

The WHO said the Government should consider collaborating with the fitness industry to improve activity levels.

"We know this is important and my colleagues and I are keen to see innovations in the next couple of years," said Health Minister Andrew Little.

Deloitte's report calculates if the Government made a once-in-a-lifetime investment of $2500 per inactive person to get them active, it would be made back in less than 12 months. And it's projected that over 30 years, that $2500 investment would actually benefit the Government by $12,500 per person in healthcare savings.

But in the meantime, individuals can start the ball rolling, so we can stop being the best sports watchers in the world and start creating more world-beaters.