Being active keeps us healthy and happy for longer. Of course, it’s also a good idea to eat well, drink sensibly and not smoke. But the evidence is that staying active, independently of other behaviours, reduces the likelihood of cancer, diabetes, heart problems and other ‘non-communicable’ diseases by up to a half.[1] 

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for early deaths globally.  It comes close behind high blood pressure, tobacco use, and high blood glucose.  Inactivity is responsible for 6% of all deaths globally; overweight and obesity is responsible for 5%.  It is also regarded as the principal cause for 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of heart disease.[2]

Mortality Rates by Income Chart

More than twice as many people from the poorest backgrounds die of circulatory disease compared with those from the most affluent backgrounds.

Physical inactivity amongst 11-25 year olds will cost us £53.3bn over the course of these people’s lives.  This is the total that we will spend on treatment, ongoing social care, sickness absence and lost productivity, due to inactive lifestyles.  The savings to be gained from getting more people more active are evident.  In his Annual Report 2009, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England said:

The potential benefits of physical activity to health are huge.  If a medication existed which had a similar effect, it would be regarded as a ‘wonder drug’ or ‘miracle cure’”

Drugs and other treatments for dealing with the consequences of inactivity are very expensive.  Getting and keeping people active can be achieved at a fraction of the cost.  The benefits of regular physical activity to health, longevity, well-being and protection from serious illness have long been established. They easily surpass the effectiveness of any drugs or other medical treatment. The challenge for everyone, young and old alike, is to get these benefits by building physical activity into their daily lives.

For current data on young people’s health, we recommend two publications from our partners at the Association for Young People’s Health:

‘Young People’s Health: Update 2014’

‘Key Data on Adolescence 2013’


1 World Health Organization (2010) Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health

[2] World Health Organization (2009) Global health risks: mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks

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