Couch potato pandemic

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2013

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Laziness and the health risks associated with it are costing the Waikato region hundreds of millions of dollars a year - and experts warn the costs are likely to increase.

A newly released report shows physical inactivity, defined as those not undertaking at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on five or more days a week, cost the Waikato region $106 million in 2010 and caused 18 premature deaths in 2009.

According to the review, laziness is at "serious pandemic level" level in New Zealand, and in 2010 drained $1.3 billion from the economy.

And Waikato experts say that if nothing is done about the issue, things are likely to worsen.

"Everyone must have a focus on regular physical activity and better choice around food, or else that $1.3 billion is going to go higher in the next few years," Sport Waikato chief executive Matthew Cooper said.

Beat Huser, programme manager for sustainability at Waikato Regional Council, said the lifestyle of most New Zealanders meant physical inactivity costs were increasing.

"It's something we need to make sure we find solutions to before they run away from us and get too high."

The report, The Costs of Physical Inactivity, was prepared by the Waikato Regional Council, Wellington Regional Strategy Committee and Auckland Council and aimed to identify the financial burden on each region in order to allow councils to respond appropriately.

Costs are split into direct health costs, associated with treatment and health care; indirect health costs, such as the loss of potential earnings, the loss of productivity to the economy and premature death; and other costs, which included public spending on health campaigns.

The total direct cost of treating diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke and type two diabetes for the Waikato was $54m in 2010.

Indirect health costs to the region totalled $48m, while $4m was chalked up on public expenditure for initiatives such as health campaigns.

Councillor Norm Barker, who chairs the Waikato Regional Council transport committee, said the council already had measures in place to promote physical activity throughout the region, and the report would allow the council to build on initiatives such as the regional walking and cycling strategy.

"We can do things like get more white paint on the road so people feel safer when they're walking and cycling, things like that.

"We've done a lot of river trails and rail trails throughout the Waikato and encouraged people to get out on them."

Mr Barker said in the last month alone, 11,500 people had been counted on the Hauraki Rail Trail from Paeroa to Waikino, and in the 13 months since the Waikato river trails was opened, more than 33,000 people had used it.

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But according to the report, the Waikato region had the lowest proportion of the population that met recommended physical activity guidelines, and the highest proportion of the population at risk due to insufficient physical activity.

Despite the findings, Mr Cooper pointed to successful projects such as Project Energize, where the Waikato region was finding unique and innovative ways to promote physical activity.

"What we're trying to do with Project Energize is get on the proactive, preventative front-foot and look at the school setting, and make sure the school setting is going back to mum and dad at home.

"And I think that is where we are seeing very good results to address some of the outcomes in this report."

 

THE COST OF DOING NOTHING

Treatment of heart disease, stroke and diabetes: $54 million (2010)

Indirect costs: $48 million

Public spending for campaigns: $4 million

- © Fairfax NZ News

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