This report provides a systematic review of empirical studies examining economic inputs and outputs/outcomes of participation in physical education, physical activity, and sport (summarised under ‘physical activity’). The reviewed studies have been evaluated based on different levels of evidence-based research.
Only a few studies have related economic inputs directly to economic outputs. Those who did identified a positive benefit/cost ratio indicating that economic investments in physical activity generated a positive return on investment. The majority of studies have either looked at the effect of different types of public investments on participation in physical activity or on (non)monetary outputs/outcomes of physical activity.
Starting with economic inputs and public investments, respectively, countries with higher government spending on sport, health, and education are more likely to have higher participation rates. The evidence is mixed when looking at the regional level, probably because regions within one country are more homogeneous. Public investments in an activity friendly neighbourhood are positively related with participation in physical activity. Also, the supply of sport infrastructure and facilities, specifically swimming pools, in close proximity to the residents’ home significantly increases the population’s likelihood of being physically active.
Moreover, both community and school campaigns can also be considered an effective policy tool for increasing participation rates; however, it has not yet been examined whether such participation is sustainable. Elite sport which is financially supported by the federal government in many countries can have an inspirational function for the population, i.e., sporting success, athletes as role models, and hosting major sport events can inspire people to participate themselves. Yet, the empirical evidence is not consistent; some studies documented a significant positive effect of elite sport, while others were not able to identify a measurable inspirational effect.
Previous research has examined non-monetary outputs and outcomes of physical activity with the majority of studies looking at physical health outcomes. Most studies document a positive effect of physical activity on subjective health (i.e., how individuals perceive their health status) and various health parameters. Specifically, physical activity is associated with a reduced incidence of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and osteoporosis. Moreover, physical activity contributes positively to subjective well-being e.g., self-reported life satisfaction or happiness) and reduces mental health problems (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders) significantly. It can also assist in reducing post-traumatic disorders resulting from military services, natural disasters, and severe diseases.
Participation in physical activity programmes was also found to be beneficial for the integration and social inclusion of ethnic minorities and immigrants as well as for the development of social capital (e.g., social networks, friends, trust). Additionally, research shows that physical activity has a positive impact on educational outcomes (e.g., grades) of pupils and students. Similarly, physical activity is beneficial for labour market outcomes: physically active people utilise health care at work to a lesser extent, are more likely to exit from unemployment, and are less absent from work.
Some studies estimated the monetary return of participation in physical activity to the individual or to the community. On the individual level, research showed that physcially active people tend to earn higher incomes and have lower medical costs. On the community level, previous research focused on the estimation of the economic costs of inactivity and documented that the economic costs of inactivity are substantial, with indirect costs (i.e., productivity losses) typically exceeding the direct costs (i.e., health care costs). Sport-related injuries have largely been excluded from such analyses.