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  • Steven Corn

The Costs of Not Going to the Gym ($500 Billion)

Most of us know that we should be eating healthier and exercising more.  It's not a complicated formula.  And yet, the statistics on preventable illnesses are staggering.  Here's just a small sampling:

  • Nearly 10% of the US population has diabetes (~30million)

  • Approximately 1.4 million new cases of diabetes reported annually

  • 30% of all Americans are obese

  • Obesity related illnesses account for ~$200b per year in health costs

  • 17% of all Americans over 18 are tobacco smokers

  • Another 16 million Americans live with a smoker.

  • Smoking causes $300b a year in health costs and lost productivity

  • Cigarette smoking is responsible for 480,000 deaths per year and is the leading source of preventable deaths

(sources:  American Diabetes Association and CDC)

The statistics on exercising are not very good either:

  • 191 million Americans (60%) don't get the recommended amount of weekly exercise

  • 25% don't exercise at all (79 million people)

  • # of gyms in the U.S.:  30,500

  • # of Americans with gym memberships:  58million

  • % that don't use their memberships:  67%

(sources:  CDC and StatisticBrain)

The average cost of a gym membership is about $60 per month.  That's $720 per year.  Many diabetes medicines cost far more than this.

So let's generously assume that there are ~85million people in the U.S. (27%) with a preventable illness.  If the government spent $720 per person on a gym membership for each of them, the cost would be $61billion per year.  

So the big question is:  could this $61b reduce health care spending by more than that amount?  If ~$500b is being spent on preventable illnesses, that means that it would have to result in 12.2% savings.

I haven't found any conclusive studies one way or the other.  But, personally speaking, I prefer the idea of spending $61b on gym memberships as opposed to the same amount on diabetes medicine.  

Of course, the big problem is how to encourage (or require) that people use their gym memberships?  Any solution would certainly be very controversial (just ask any ACA opponent about the mandate).

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