Sedentariness and physical inactivity cause or aggravate, for most people, a myriad physical illnesses, obesity and psychological problems and reduce life expectancy. These increase health care costs and reduce employee performance. Conversely, the effect of physical activity on health is positive; the greatest health improvements due to additional activity occur among individuals who have the lowest baseline levels of physical activity. There is therefore a private and public interest in engaging greater numbers of people in physical activity. Alas, physical activity is not free: it frequently costs time and money, and for most people it is a source of direct disutility. Because of a combination of ignorance, preferences, externalities and unrealistically high time-discount rates, most individuals engage in a level of physical activity below that deemed by many observers as individually and socially optimal.
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