Americans still sitting on their duffs, study finds

Apparently, you can talk to average Americans, particularly women, until you're blue in the face about the benefits of exercise and they'll keep reaching for the Doritos from the TV-room lounge chair. That's the basic conclusion of a 40-year study of 1,359 men and a 20-year study of 839 women that was published in the July issue of the scientific journal Preventative Medicine.
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Preaching to the choir is one thing -- pretty much anyone walking into a fitness store, outdoor shop or gym has gotten the message. But, apparently you can talk to average Americans, particularly women, until you're blue in the face about the benefits of exercise and they'll keep reaching for the Doritos from the TV-room lounge chair.

That's the basic conclusion of a 40-year study of 1,359 men and a 20-year study of 839 women that was published in the July issue of the scientific journal Preventative Medicine. All of the participants from the Baltimore, Md., area were considered "health conscious" by the researchers; most were white, well-educated and did not have medical conditions. They reported how much time was spent at 97 activities and this data was converted to an estimate of energy expended. In addition, they compared the general health recommendations of the era.

Despite decades of warnings from government agencies, the medical community and advocacy organizations, there was essentially no change at all in the fitness habits of women. Men seem a little better about getting off their duffs, showing a slight decline in the sedentary category and a moderate increase in high-intensity activities (no significant change in the moderate-intensity levels). But most of the gains were in the '70s and '80s, rather than the '90s (data was from 1958 to 1998).

According to the authors, "These findings raise questions about the success of previous national recommendations designed to increase leisure-time physical activity." The demographics of the subjects would make them more likely to follow guidelines than many Americans so the broader implication is even more disturbing.

The researchers theorize that uncoordinated and often conflicting recommendations have confused the dickens out of people to the point they just give up -- a similar problem exists with diet recommendations. Despite a constant bombardment of advice to exercise more and eat better, the follow up information on specifically how to do it has been lacking or inconsistent.

A recent Harris Interactive study of 2,522 people nationwide found that Americans over age 13 spend about eight hours a day sitting and four hours watching TV or playing video games. Yet 70 percent want to lose weight and 81 percent would like to be more active. And 89 percent didn't realize that small changes in lifestyle, like cutting 100 calories per day, are all that are needed to stop weight gain.

SNEWS View: This is yet another call to action -- and an opportunity -- for both the fitness and outdoor industries. We've been preaching to the choir for too long and the church (your consumers) is getting smaller as waistlines get bigger. If both industries would work together for a change, the synergy would result in market growth and a healthier nation.

A great example of how a simple thing like supplying inexpensive pedometers can work wonders is a new organization called America on the Move (www.americaonthemove.org), which we wrote about on May 30. Based on a hugely successful pilot program in Colorado (www.coloradoonthemove.org) that got 150,000 people to take 2,000 extra steps per day (about a mile), it is a nationwide effort to promote physical activity.

Hello! Is anyone in the fitness or outdoor industry awake? America on the Move has joined forces with the AARP, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA), the President's Challenge Physical Activity and Fitness Awards Program, and the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC). If this grassroots campaign can convince 5 million people to walk an extra mile and cut 100 calories per day, it will be a major step in the right direction. And it will inevitably lead to more people needing outdoor and fitness products.

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