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  • Health Indicators Report Cites Improvement in Physical Activity, Stalled Obesity Rates

    According to a recent federal report on the health of Americans, the US is making steady gains in the number of adults who meet guidelines for physical activity, but obesity rates haven't changed much for any population age group—including children.

    The latest findings are included in a progress report (.pdf) on 26 leading health indicators (LHIs) tracked by Healthy People 2020, a federal program that monitors a long list of health objectives. The report compares current LHIs against a baseline as well as goals for the campaign. In the case of adults meeting aerobic physical activity and muscle-strengthening guidelines, the report shows a 2012 rate of 20.6%--up from the 2008 baseline of 18.2% and slightly above the goal of 20.1%.

    The news wasn't as good for obesity rates. For adults, obesity rates have actually increased from a 2005-2008 baseline of 33.9% to 35.3%, well away from the 30.5% goal. Obesity rates among children also rose from 16.1% to 16.9%, drifting further away from the program's goal of 14.5%. The latest news on childhood obesity rates runs counter to earlier reports from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that pointed to a dramatic drop.

    Overall, the report describes the latest data as "generally positive," with 10 of the 26 indicators showing improvement and 8 showing little or no change since the baseline year. The indicators being monitored through the program are related to more broad topics that include access to health services, preventive services, environmental quality, injury and violence, maternal and child health, mental health, nutrition and physical activity, oral health, reproductive health, social determinants, substance abuse, and tobacco use.

    Among other findings in the report:

    • Improvements were cited in adults with hypertension whose blood pressure is under control, total preterm live births, and rates of adult cigarette smokers. Other improvements included reductions in infant mortality, injury deaths, and adolescent alcohol and drug use.
    • In addition to adult activity rates, other indicators that met goals were in air quality, a reduction in childhood exposure to secondhand smoke, and a decrease in homicide rates.
    • Suicide rates and the percentage of adolescents with major depressive episodes were reported as worsening.

    APTA has long supported the promotion of physical activity and the value of physical fitness, and has representatives on the practice committee of Exercise is Medicine and the board of the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance. The association offers several resources on obesity, including continuing education on childhood obesity, and a prevention and wellness webpage that links to podcasts on the harmful effects of inactivity.

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