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Levels of physical activity and inactivity in children and adults in the United States: current evidence and research issues


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: November 1999 - Volume 31 - Issue 11 - p S526
Roundtable Consensus Statement

PRATT, M., C. A. MACERA, and C. BLANTON. Levels of physical activity and inactivity in children and adults in the United States: current evidence and research issues. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 31, No. 11, Suppl., pp. S526–S533, 1999.

Purpose The purpose was to describe current levels of physical activity and inactivity among adults and young people in the United States.

Methods Estimates of participation in regular physical activity were derived from three national surveys for adults (National Health Interview Survey, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) and from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey for high school students.

Results Overall, 63.8% of high school students surveyed on the 1997 YRBS reported participating in vigorous physical activity for at least 20 min on 3 or more days per week. Participation in vigorous activity was higher for boys (72.3%) than girls (53.5%), whites (66.8%) compared with blacks (53.9%) and Hispanics (60.4%), and decreased with advancing grade. Among adults, 27.7% meet recommended levels of either moderate or vigorous physical activity, whereas 29.2% report no regular physical activity outside of their work. Gender differences in participation in physical activity are less pronounced than in youth, and age-related patterns were complex. Whites are more active than blacks and Hispanics, and persons with higher family incomes and more education report being more physically active. There have been only minor changes in reported participation in leisure time physical activity over the past 15 yr.

Conclusion National estimates of physical activity appear to be reliable and valid for adults but may be less so for adolescents and are poor measures for children. Research is needed to determine the role that objective monitoring with accelerometers may play in surveillance. Reliable and valid measures of occupational, household, and transportation-related physical activity and sedentary behaviors are needed to better characterize the range of activity that is associated with health.

Physical Activity and Health Branch, Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30341-3717

Address for correspondence: Michael Pratt, M.D., M.P.H., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4770 Buford Highway NE (K-46), Atlanta, GA 30341-3717; E-mail:

Roundtable held February 4–7, 1999, Indianapolis, IN.

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.