CDC Redefines Activity, But Americans Still Fail Test

by Diane Lofshult on Oct 01, 2003

In an effort to determine whether Americans are getting enough exercise in their daily activities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently broadened its criteria as to what constitutes physical activity. The new, more inclusive list of activities takes into account less traditional and less intense forms of exercise, such as scrubbing floors, raking the lawn, vacuuming and playing with the kids. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans still failed the test of getting the recommended 30 minutes or more of physical activity on most days of the week.

Like a teacher who throws out conventional grading in favor of grading on a curve only to be shocked when students fail anyway, the CDC researchers were taken aback by how poorly Americans fared under the relaxed activity criteria.

“It’s surprising,” said Harold Kohl, author of the CDC study, when interviewed by the Associated Press. “There’s still more than 1 out of 2 Americans who are not active at a level we think promotes health. From an overall health standpoint, . . . we’ve got to move the needle substantially from where it is right now.”

The CDC study findings, published in the August 15 issue of the government’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, detail the responses from a population-based telephone survey of Americans aged 18 and older. The respondents were asked about their activities in a typical week. To encourage recollection of all types of physical activity, the respondents were asked about moderate-intensity activities separately from more vigorous activities.

Even with the more inclusive list of activities to choose from, more than half of those polled (55%) said they get less activity than the minimum recommended by the CDC. Although the current results were an improvement over those of past surveys that adhered to stricter definitions of physical activity types, health officials were still dismayed by the recent findings.

“We cannot overstate how critical physical activity is for our good health, and we want every American to understand that small steps toward a more physically active life yield significant results,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

For more information on the CDC study findings, contact

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About the Author

Diane Lofshult

Diane Lofshult IDEA Author/Presenter

Diane Lofshult is an award-winning freelance author who specializes in nutrition and weight management topics. She is the founder of In Other Words, an editorial consulting firm based in Solana Beach, California. Reach her at