Dr Richard Weiler and Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis have put forward the idea because they say the the link between inactivity and poor health is so strong.
Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, they explained: “Given the significant associated mortality and morbidity, we propose that perhaps physical inactivity should also be considered for recognition as a disease in its own right.”
Obesity is already classed as a disease by the World Health Organisation, noted Dr Richard Weiler, a specialist registrar in sports and exercise at Imperial College Healthcare and a GP.
But he said obesity was often at least partially the result of a deeper cause – not doing enough exercise.
Speaking about the article, he said: “Money is pumped at treating the symptoms of physical inactivity – at obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease – but not at the root cause.”
He added: “It is neglected because of the way that modern medicine is taught and the way the NHS is run.
“We need to put the health back into the NHS – we need to promote wellness as well as treat illness.”
In May Dr Weiler said that the evidence showed that lack of fitness was the root cause of more illness than being fat.
Despite such evidence, he said it remained the poor relation of the public health family.
He said GPs should be financially rewarded for promoting exercise through the Quality and Outcomes Framework, an action which he estimated would cost £1 million. This was “peanuts” set against the estimated cost of problems associated with lack of exercise, of £8.2 billion a year, he argued.
His comments follow those made at the weekend by Prof Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, who said many people needed to “face facts and take responsibility” for their own health.
Dr Weiler said recent studies showed only one in 20 people took the minimum amount of recommended exercise, but there was still “no co-ordinated plan” to tackle the problem.
He and Dr Stamatakis, of University College London, concluded in their paper: “Can we afford to leave physical activity promotion in primary care as the ‘would-be-nice’ preventive option, offered typically in the form of unstructured advice by inadequately trained professionals?”