Just 23 percent of US adults exercising enough, as obesity spike continues: CDC figures

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29 Jun 2018 --- Although more US adults are getting the recommended amount of exercise than in 2015, a larger percentage of adults are obese, new research by the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has unveiled. 

Modernization in the US has reduced the contribution of occupational physical activity to total physical activity, as the nation’s service economy requires minimal physical activity from a majority of workers who perform work that is largely sedentary. 

As a result, the CDC reports, most adults who currently meet the 2008 federal physical activity guidelines do so by participating in leisure-time physical activity (LTPA). Nationally, 23 percent of US adults aged 18–64 met the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities during LTPA in 2010–2015. This figure, arguably still far from ideal, shows a slight increase from the 21 percent reported in 2015, based on previous figures. 

However, a separate CDC survey showed a significantly increasing trend in obesity observed in both adults and youth from 1999–2000 through 2015–2016. Overall, 39.8 percent of US adults are overweight. The prevalence of obesity among adults aged 40–59 (42.8 percent) was higher than among adults aged 20–39 (35.7 percent).

Click to EnlargeWhile a further report highlighted the difference between obesity rates in metro (urban) and non-metropolitan (rural) areas. Obesity prevalence was significantly higher among adults in rural areas (34.2 percent) than among those living in metropolitan counties (28.7 percent). The CDC suggest that obesity-prevention can be implemented in rural areas such as working with schools, websites and opening public buildings after hours for physical activity purposes.

To enjoy any substantial health benefits from exercise, the 2008 US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) federal physical activity guidelines recommend that adults perform at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity, in addition to muscle-strengthening activities 2 or more days per week.

The CDC’s research uncovered large disparities in the extent to which adults met these guidelines, varying by state, sex and current work status. 

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia had significantly higher percentages of adults meeting the guidelines through LTPA than the national average, while 13 states had percentages that were significantly below the national average. The percentage of men who met the guidelines through participation in LTPA varied from 17.7 percent in South Dakota to 40.3 percent in the District of Columbia, with the national average being 27.2 percent. 

Among women, the CDC reports, percentages varied from 9.7 percent in Mississippi to 31.5 percent in Colorado, with the national average for women being 18.7 percent. Percentages meeting the guidelines among men were less regionally concentrated than among women, especially with respect to exceeding the guidelines. 

The CDC reports boldly point to the importance of engaging with exercise schemes that are accessible to different age, ethnic and geographical groups. While national exercise levels may have increased by a small margin, obesity rates continue to grow. Especially worrying is the disparity between those who often partake in exercise and those who do not at all.

Another US survey has noted that a lack of knowledge on the link between nutrition and health benefits remains a barrier to achieving health goals for the over 50’s. While this fact was mirrored in a further survey on the overall US population, another key finding was the extreme popularity of dieting amid high levels of confusion over health.

By Lucy Gunn & Laxmi Haigh

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