Americans Are Moving More

Physical activity levels have been rising across American counties

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) More public health campaigns in recent years have focused on the need for regular physical activity. Apparently, Americans are listening — and they're getting up and exercising.

A recent study found that levels of physical activity have been increasing over the past decade.

Higher percentages of residents across most American counties are getting the recommended 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity each week.

Obesity rates have also increased overall, but these rates are only slightly lower in the counties with higher physical activity rates.

"Be physically active every day."

The study, led by Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, MPH, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, looked at rates of physical activity among Americans.

The researchers analyzed data from two databases. One is called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the other is the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The first database included information from about 3.7 million adults, aged 20 and older, from 2000 through 2011.

The second database included survey answers from about 30,000 adults, aged 20 and older, who participated from 1999 to 2010.

The researchers compared the participants' body mass index (BMI) to the levels of physical activity they reported.

Body mass index is a ratio of a person's height to weight. It's used to determine whether someone is at healthy weight.

Then the researchers estimated the obesity rates and the levels of physical activity for all US counties by year, from 2001 to 2011.

The results showed that the number of people getting sufficient regular physical activity has been increasing from 2001 through 2009.

Sufficient physical activity means getting a total of about 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate physical activity each week, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous activity each week.

Men tend to be more physically active than women according to these results, but the women are catching up quickly.

Bigger increases in physical activity over this time were seen among women.

Interestingly, however, there was also an increase in obesity rates during this time across most US counties.

The researchers found a small link between physical activity and obesity after they took into account the participants' poverty level and unemployment, the numbers of doctors in their area and if they lived in a rural area.

For every 1 percent increase in physical activity there was in a county, the rate of obesity was 0.11 percentage points lower.

"Our study showed that increased physical activity alone has a small impact on obesity prevalence at the county level in the US," the researchers wrote. "Other changes such as reduction in caloric intake are likely needed to curb the obesity epidemic and its burden."

However, they noted that the increase in physical activity means good things for Americans' health.

"Indeed, the rise in physical activity levels will have a positive independent impact on the health of Americans, as it will reduce the burden of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes," they wrote.

Below are the counties that included the most active adults and the percentage of residents in those counties who are getting sufficient regular physical activity.

The following counties have the highest levels of physical activity among men.

  • Teton, WY: 77.5 percent
  • Summit, UT: 73.2 percent
  • Routt, CO: 72.9 percent
  • Summit, CO: 72.7 percent
  • Jefferson, WA: 72.2 percent
  • Nevada, CA: 71.9 percent
  • La Plata, CO: 71.9 percent
  • Wasatch, UT: 71.7 percent
  • Kauai, HI: 71.6 percent
  • Los Alamos, NM: 71.4 percent

The following counties have the highest levels of physical activity among women.

  • Routt, CO: 74.7 percent
  • Marin, CA: 74.2 percent
  • Teton, WY: 72.7 percent
  • Pitkin, CO: 72.4 percent
  • San Juan, WA: 71.6 percent
  • Summit, UT: 69.6 percent
  • Eagle, CO: 69.6 percent
  • Barnstable, MA: 69.2 percent
  • Benton, OR: 69.1 percent
  • Rio Blanco, CO: 68.8 percent

The following counties have the lowest levels of obesity among men.

  • San Francisco, CA: 18.3 percent
  • New York, NY: 19.1 percent
  • Falls Church City, VA: 19.5 percent
  • Santa Fe, NM: 21 percent
  • Pitkin, CO: 21.3 percent
  • Teton, WY: 21.6 percent
  • Eagle, CO: 22 percent
  • Fairfax City, VA: 22 percent
  • District of Columbia: 22.4 percent
  • Summit, UT: 22.4 percent

The following counties have the lowest levels of obesity among women.

  • Falls Church City, VA: 17.6 percent
  • Pitkin, CO: 18.5 percent
  • Douglas, CO: 18.6 percent
  • Routt, CO: 19 percent
  • Teton, WY: 19.6 percent
  • Summit, UT: 20 percent
  • San Francisco, CA: 20.9 percent
  • Eagle, CO: 20.9 percent
  • Marin, CA: 21.1 percent
  • Gallatin, MT: 21.9 percent

This study was published July 10 in the journal Population Health Metrics.

The research was funded by the state of Washington. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 10, 2013
Last Updated:
July 30, 2013