In June 2020, the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) commissioned the AIHW to investigate the benefits and costs to the health system associated with participation in physical activity. This analysis is part of a broader project to gather evidence around injuries arising by sport participation and the potential population benefits to be achieved through improved injury prevention and management and increased physical activity.

The purpose of this project is to quantify the health spending related to physical activity within the Australian population. This is done by assessing:

  • costs due to immediate and long term risk of injuries; and
  • the avoided health spending due to better health status.

Hospital costs of injury associated with physical activity

This initial report presents estimates of hospital spending related to emergency departments and hospital admissions (where diagnosis and external cause data is available). It is estimated that the immediate cost of treating injuries caused by physical activity through the hospital system was $764 million in 2018-19, with:

  • $164 million spent in emergency departments and $600 million spend on admitted patient care treating injuries related to physical activity.
  • Injury spending in emergency departments due to physical activity was highest for other injuries ($51 million), other fractures ($45 million), and soft tissue injuries ($32 million).
  • Injury spending due to physical activity for admitted patients was highest for other fractures ($205 million), soft tissue injury ($98 million), and tibia and ankle fractures ($86 million).

The costs associated with injuries estimated in this report are assumed to reflect a preventable burden, in that the costs captured here reflect post-injury care rather than injury prevention activities and, the assumption that all injuries related to physical activity are potentially preventable (through improved prevention activities rather than avoiding activity).

Preliminary estimates of non-hospital burden and benefits of physical activity

Estimates presented in this report are conservative, and do not represent the full cost of injuries and benefits from physical activity participation, due to current data limitations. Injury costs do not currently include ongoing rehabilitation costs, or costs of other conditions such as osteoarthritis occurring after the injury. Preliminary (conservative) estimates show that:

  • Managing health conditions due to physical inactivity (such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes) was estimated to cost the health system $968 million in 2018-19; and
  • Participation in physical activity is estimated to save the health system $484 million per year on avoided disease costs (equating to health costs on related conditions being reduced by 6% due to participation in physical activity).

The benefits of physical activity through reduced chronic disease ($484 million) are conservative due to the limited number of conditions currently included in the physical inactivity model, and underestimate the benefits due to physical activity. While the cost of injuries ($764 million) and the savings on treatment of chronic diseases ($484 million) due to physical activity can be calculated from currently available data, it is not appropriate to subtract these from each other to calculate the net impact of physical activity due to the current limitations of data availability, which may provide misleading conclusions. Further work will be undertaken to more fully describe the benefits due to physical activity as well as the potential additional costs that might be incurred through increased physical activity.