In spite of an abundance of scientific evidence for the health benefits related to physical activity (PA), the health economic impact of gym usage has not been fully described. The lack of objective, quantifiable data on the health and budget impact of fitness may have been a contributing factor in the prolonged forced closures of Belgian fitness centers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Policy makers were forced to make tough decisions to prevent the coronavirus sars-cov-2 from spreading. The fitness industry was particularly affected.
Fitness.be is the working name of the Belgian Fitness Organization which mainly offers socio-economic support, training and further education. Its main goal is advocacy, service and communication linked to a structured pursuit of a professional and quality fitness sector. Fitness.be seeks to position the fitness sector as a fully-fledged economic entity within preventive healthcare.
The overall aim of this project was to assess the health and economic impact of physical activity performed in gym clubs taking into account the medical and psychosocial wellbeing of the Belgian gym users. In addition, the impact of a nationwide closure of the Belgian gym clubs can be estimated from its estimated impact on short and long-term reduced physical activity.
Alongside Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Hict conducted a literature review and a health economic analysis to quantify the long-term impact of fitness, as well as the impact of temporary closure.
The literature search leveraged Hict’s rapid literature review methodology, that is designed to quickly identify relevant literature using a combination of structured search and pragmatic results processing.
We leveraged an existing prevention model, developed by the Interuniversity Centre for Health Economics Research (collaboration between Ghent University and Vrije Universiteit Brussel), to model the long-term preventive effect of physical activity, in terms of a reduced incidence of chronic diseases and the resulting reduced medical costs and mortality, improved quality of life, and reduced productivity losses (fig).
Additionally, all outcomes were expressed in monetary terms. Results of these type of analyses are often expressed in terms of costs per QALY (in other words without monetarizing QALYs), which is highly relevant for comparisons within the healthcare sector. However, as the consequences of the global pandemic caused by Covid-19 were not limited to the healthcare sector, a monetary outcome allows cross-sector comparisons.
The rapid literature review showed that many of the relations for which data will be needed to populate a health-economic model are well-established in the literature, in particular:
Our results are relevant for the fitness sector, the general public and for policy makers. Hence, we also aimed for a broad outreach including stakeholder outreach materials and shorter video content made specifically for social media channels.
Stakeholder outreach materials developed from this project are: