The costs of inactivity in Europe

June 17, 2015

Cebr study shows the cost of "doing nothing": inactivity kills half a million Europeans and costs the economy over €80bn annually

  • 1 in 4 adults across Europe is insufficiently physically active, as are 4 out of 5 adolescents
  • Cost to the European economy of “doing nothing” is over 80bn Euros per year – 5bn Euros more than the world spends on cancer drugs in a year
  • Physical inactivity could become bigger risk to public health than smoking, but cheap and effective steps to get people moving could save Europe billions.


A new study published by the Centre for Economics and Business Research has revealed the true cost of Europe’s physical inactivity time bomb.


The study, commissioned by ISCA (International Sport and Culture Association) shows that half a million Europeans die every year as a result of being physically inactive. The most common causes of death are from those diseases linked to being physically inactive such as coronary heart disease, type II diabetes and colorectal and breast cancer.


One in four adults across Europe is currently physically inactive – as are four out of five adolescents.


The total cost to Europe’s economy from such widespread inactivity was found to be over €80bn a year – five billion Euros more than the world spends on cancer drugs each year.


If nothing is done to get people moving and more active in their day to day lives, the study says physical inactivity could pose a bigger risk to public health in the future than smoking.


Despite the huge financial and human cost, ISCA says there are cheap and effective ways to get people moving that could save businesses and health services across Europe billions of Euros.


Mogens Kirkeby, ISCA President said: “We need to move more.  It’s really as simple as that. But 20 minutes a day of moderate activity would make a massive difference to these figures. If we could cut the current level of physical inactivity in Europe by just a fifth, we could save 100,000 lives and over 16bn Euros a year”.


Mr Kirkeby said that the WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends doing nearly two hours a week of moderate activity. “That means 20 minutes a day and could be as simple as getting off the bus or train a stop earlier and taking a brisk walk to work; taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even just playing in the park or garden with the kids”.


The study also showed that being physically inactive goes beyond physical disorders. One in four Europeans (or 83 million) is affected by mental ill health. The research estimates the indirect cost of inactivity-related mood and anxiety disorders to be over €23bn Euros a year.


This is important, when physical activity has been shown to help reduce the effects of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and psychological and emotional distress. The study also highlights the results of a 16-week trial to get people more active: this showed that those who took part reported sleeping better, being more productive as well feeling healthier and less stressed at work.


According to ISCA, it is possible to defuse the inactivity time bomb by getting people to see the physical, mental and social benefits of being active.


“The study is shocking when you see the number of lives being lost and billions of Euros spent because we aren’t moving enough” says Mr Kirkeby.


“That’s why ISCA is campaigning to get 100 million Europeans to be more active by 2020 by finding an activity that moves them. We need to encourage people to move more, so they see and feel the real benefits that brings them”.


The full study can be found at ISCA’s dedicated microsite, as can a more detailed breakdown of the economic and human cost of physical inactivity in Europe.



About International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA)

ISCA is a global platform open to organisations working within the field of sport for all, recreational sports and physical activity. Founded in 1995, ISCA is today a global actor closely cooperating with its 180 member organisations worldwide (including 91 European organisations), international NGOs, and public and private sector stakeholders.


In 2012, ISCA launched the NowWeMOVE campaign with the aim of bringing the sport for all sector and a variety of other sectors together to tackle the physical inactivity epidemic across Europe. NowWeMOVE is now Europe’s biggest campaign promoting sport and physical activity. Its vision is to get “100 million more Europeans active in sport and physical activity by 2020”.The campaign’s overall objectives are to raise awareness of the benefits of sport and physical activity among European citizens; promote opportunities to be active in sport and physical activity; and enable sustainable and innovative capacity building for providers of physical activity initiatives through open-source solutions and advocacy.


‘The Economic Cost of Physical Activity in Europe’ research report is a natural step in ISCA’s work towards informing people about the value of physical activity and equipping stakeholders in physical activity promotion with resources they can use to push the agenda forward. That is why in February 2015, ISCA commissioned the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) to examine the physical and mental health costs of inactivity for Europe (based on France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the UK).