Researchers to study the financial and societal effects of physical activity and inactivity

Led by Professor Raija Korpelainen from the University of Oulu, a new research project will study the financial and societal significance of physical activity and inactivity, providing information that is unique even on the international scale.

For the first time, the research data will also make it possible to account for the possible genetic effects on physical activity and the costs involved.

Insufficient physical activity is a key problem in terms of public health and the economy. The costs incurred by society due to physical inactivity are estimated to be billions of euros, but the exact actual costs have not been previously investigated in Finland.

The study is based on birth cohort data, in which people who were born in Northern Finland in 1966 have been followed ever since their foetal period.

The study utilises individual-level data on, among other things, socio-economic status, sickness benefits, pensions and social and health care costs. The study will also produce information on how financial factors, such as income level, are connected to physical activity and inactivity.

The particular strengths and internationally distinctive factors of the project include combining methods employed in economics and physical activity epidemiology as well as accelerometry measured physical activity data with population-based registry data. The unique data enables to analyse the participants’ individual activity profiles produced using machine learning methods.

While several international studies have previously aimed at investigating the financial effects of physical activity, actual costs incurred have not previously been analysed in relation to physical activity.

“So far, studies of the financial impact of physical activity have mainly used self report surveys of leisure time physical activities to determine the level of activity. Now, for the first time, we will get to analyse actual measured activity data and its connection to costs,” Professor Korpelainen says.

The results of the project will provide a unique knowledge base and understanding to increase the physical activity of the population, particularly to identify and activate people who are at risk of exclusion from physical exercise and are heavy users of social and health services.

Named “Fyysisen aktiivisuuden ja paikallaolon taloudellinen ja yhteiskunnallinen merkitys” (“The financial and societal significance of physical activity and inactivity”), the research project is funded by, among others, the Ministry of Education and Culture. The project will be implemented in 2020–2023. It is a joint effort between the University of Oulu, University of Jyväskylä and Department of Sports and Exercise Medicine of the Oulu Deaconess Institute sr.

Last updated: 1.12.2021