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Groundbreaking pilot study proves the cash value of physical activity to the economy.

As the physical activity sector works to deepen its relationship with the health sector, a new study has revealed how exercise interventions can deliver proven economic value to the economy.

Physical activity can play a crucial role in reducing health inequalities and the economic burden on health services. This has now been evidenced in an evaluation report of a pilot study called the Prevention and Enablement Model (PEM), that ran over two years in Essex, UK.

Partners delivering the pilot were Adult Social Care at Essex County Council, Active Essex and charity, Sport for Confidence.

The project integrated physical activity into the lives of individuals with disabilities or long-term health conditions and demonstrated an economic impact in terms of the social value of £58.72 per £1 invested.

Users reported improvements in health, well-being, confidence, skills, routine and structure, and independence as a result of their involvement.

“I had a fall about a month ago and was so pleased I managed to get myself up because I wouldn’t be able to do this if I hadn’t been coming to the classes,” said one attendee.

The programme, which included a falls prevention focus and followed a whole system approach was organised across four PEM workstreams: care homes – supporting the integration of physical activity into best practice; community partnerships – delivering inclusive sports sessions at leisure centres; physical activity in occupational therapy – the practical development of programmes for occupational therapists to enable the integration of physical activity in practice; and strength and balance training delivered by Sport for Confidence in leisure centres.

For two years, the community partnerships sessions supported over 900 users and recorded 800 attendances a month. Follow-on sessions had around 150 attendances per month.

The PEM Evaluation Report was compiled and verified independently by the University of Essex. It compared data to Sport England’s Active Lives Survey and found that PEM “may have the effect of improving the physical activity levels of a person living with a disability or long-term health condition to comparable levels of the rest of the population”.

Individuals using the PEM service show a decrease in self-reported service use, such as day-care, GP appointments, 999 calls and hospital visits. The estimated cost saving of this was £365.23 per PEM participant, per year.

“What the PEM initiative has now evidenced is the true extent of the potential, not just for individuals but for the whole of society,” said Lyndsey Barrett, founder of Sport for Confidence and lead occupational therapist. “An active, engaged, population is a healthier, happier population which results in a population that is less reliant on or likely to call on healthcare interventions.

“With the NHS struggling to meet demand and with inactivity estimated to have contributed a bill of £0.8bn in 2016/17 (Heron et al, 2019), now is the time to move to a more preventative solution. PEM has demonstrated the potential effectiveness of a new, whole system approach, the merits of which will be incredibly difficult to argue against,” she said.

Social value assessors State of Life took the 2021 Wellbeing Supplementary Guidance in the Treasury’s Green Book and applied the treasury recommended Wellby to monetise the well-being value of PEM. It found that the difference in life satisfaction between individuals about to start PEM and those one month into the programme is estimated to equate to a monetary value of £22,230 per person per year.

“The evaluation we have undertaken of the prevention and enablement model has provided important insight that could help improve health and activity levels in the county,” said Dr Paul Freeman, University of Essex. “Importantly, the ways of working employed within the prevention and enablement model have great social, and potentially, economic value in a time of unprecedented fiscal uncertainty.”


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