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An Epidemic of Obesity Myths
The State of Physical Activity

  • "Only about one-half of U.S. young people (ages 12-21 years) regularly participate in vigorous physical activity. One-fourth report no vigorous physical activity."

  • Only 15 percent of U.S. adults engage regularly (three times a week for at least 20 minutes) in vigorous physical activity during leisure time.

  • "According to annual tracking surveys initiated in 1987 by American Sports Data, Inc., the fitness revolution reached its apogee in 1990. Since that time, the number of frequent fitness participants in the U.S. has fallen imperceptibly from 51 million in 1990, to 50.9 million in 2002. But factoring out population growth, there has been a per capita decline of 15% in frequent fitness participation (100+ days per year in any one activity). Among children 12-17, the plunge is 41%—hard evidence of a monumental neglect that mirrors the dilapidated state of physical education in U.S. public schools."

  • More than 60 percent of American adults are not regularly physically active.

  • "More than a third of young people in grades 9-12 do not regularly engage in vigorous physical activity. Daily participation in high school physical education classes dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 29 percent in 1999."

  • About 25 percent of adults report no physical activity at all in their leisure time.

  • From 1977 to 1995, the number of walking and biking trips made by children declined by 61 percent. The National Sporting Goods Association's Youth Participation in Selected Sports survey reports that bicycle riding among adolescents dropped more than 25 percent between 1996 and 2002. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a child is six times more likely to play a video game than ride a bicycle in a typical day.

  • 75 percent of all trips less than a mile are taken by car.

  • "With Americans using cars for 89 percent of all their trips, it is not surprising that the number of trips the average American adult takes on foot each year dropped 42 percent between 1975 and 1995."

  • Yale professor Kelly Brownell reports: "There's only one state in the country that mandates daily physical education in schools, and that happens to be Illinois. In the rest of the country it's district by district and highly variable. In some places children get almost no physical education in high school. In other places they might get one or two days a week. But even then, studies have shown that out of a typical gym period, only six minutes are spent being physically active! The rest of the times it's standing in line, visiting with your friends, standing around waiting for the ball to come to you, things like that. So the amount of physical education students get is actually very small—it can be measured in minutes per week. It's hard to imagine that we're going to have a fit nation if that's what we're teaching our kids in school."

  • According to the journal Pediatrics, "only 21.3% of all adolescents participated in 1 or more days per week of PE in their schools."

  • The Urban Institute reports: "Using Labor Department data, we estimate that the percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs has dropped substantially—from about 20 percent in 1950 to almost 8 percent in 1996 (figure 1). (Physically demanding jobs are defined as requiring frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing more than 25 pounds.) Our estimate probably understates the decline because it does not take into account the possibility that even jobs classified as physically demanding today are less strenuous than jobs in the past. In addition, the drop in the number of workers in physically demanding jobs was most dramatic among older age groups."

Jobs throughout the ages