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Copyright 2018 The Washington Times
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The Washington Times


Physical activity among young adults decreases sharply after adolescence, with the largest disparities seen in girls and young women, especially black females, a new report says.

The latest statistics highlight large gaps between these groups that are contributing to the nation's ongoing obesity epidemic, with 1-in-5 children and one-third of adults considered obese, according to federal agencies.

The study was conducted by researchers at Duke University and published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It also examined how income disparities influence time spent on physical activity.

Being a young black woman living below the poverty line was associated with low levels of exercise, yet these differences had little effect on how much physical activity young men got per week.

"Lower income and minority race/ethnicity were associated with lower activity among 12- to 17-year-old females," the researchers wrote. "These data highlight opportunities for targeted physical activity programming and policy efforts to reduce the risk for chronic diseases and improve overall health throughout the life span."

Researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 and 2016, with responses from nearly 9,500 males and females, aged 12 to 29 years old. Many respondents said they engaged in some physical activity, but they failed to achieve the lowest amount of federally recommended time and exercise intensity.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adolescents get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day. Recommendations fall to 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week for those 20 years old and older, but outside influences and environment play a larger role in accessibility to fitness.

"The proportion of individuals who met the adult guidelines ranged from 73.5 [percent] of adolescent boys of all ages to only 36.7 [percent] of 25- to 29-year-old females," the researchers wrote. "For both sexes, minority race/ethnicity and lower income were associated with lower percentage of individuals meeting guidelines."

For black females, 69 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds reported any moderate to vigorous physical activity. That dropped by 23.7 percentage points for women 25 to 29 years old the largest drop among the observed populations, the researchers wrote.

For white and Hispanic girls and young women, activity levels dropped by 15.8 percentage points and 14.9 percentage points, respectively.

Being overweight and inactive can contribute to a number of health-related issues, including Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease and premature death.

In the District of Columbia for example, the poorest neighborhoods have few, if any, commercial gyms. Government-run recreation centers are few and far between.

These communities also have the highest rates of obesity, high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes and asthma, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The District is seen as one of the healthiest cities in the country, but when you do a deep dive into communities or different groups within the overall population, you see big disparities in health outcomes," said Yesim Sayin Taylor, executive director of the D.C. Policy Center. "You have a lot of rich white people moving into the city and a lot of middle-class blacks leaving the city, which means that you have, essentially, a lot of rich people and a lot of poor people left."

Girls and young women also must overcome cultural barriers to participating in physical activity. A 2010 study found that, among ethnically diverse girls in the Midwest, being self-conscious about their looks when working out and not being motivated kept them from exercising.

Increasing physical activity across the U.S. is one of the main priorities of Healthy People 2020, a 10-year national agenda for achieving improved health measurements. In 2010, 43.5 percent of the population was physically active, health officials are hoping to increase that number to 47.9 percent in 2020.

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June 12, 2018


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