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United States Department of Health and Human Services
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June 28, 2002 Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343


Overview: Chronic diseases account for seven of every 10 U.S. deaths and for more than 60 percent of medical care expenditures. In addition, the prolonged illness and disability associated with many chronic diseases decrease quality of life for millions of Americans.

Much of the chronic disease burden is preventable. Physical inactivity and unhealthy eating contribute to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which together are responsible for at least 300,000 deaths each year. Only tobacco use causes more preventable deaths in the United States. People who avoid the behaviors that increase their risk for chronic diseases can expect to live healthier and longer lives.

Improving the health of Americans through physical activity and other prevention efforts is a priority of the Department of Health and Human Services. Through programs and research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other agencies at HHS, the department is developing programs and initiatives that encourage greater physical activity in families and communities.

Physical activity plays an essential role in promoting good health and preventing chronic diseases and is a leading component of President Bush's Healthier US Initiative, launched June 20, 2002. (More information on the initiative is available at Overall, the President's fiscal year 2003 budget for HHS provides more than $16 billion for disease prevention programs and research.


Regular physical activity substantially reduces the risk of dying of coronary heart disease, the nation's leading cause of death, and decreases the risk for colon cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. It also helps to control weight; contributes to healthy bones, muscles, and joints; reduces falls among the elderly; helps to relieve the pain of arthritis; reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression; and is associated with fewer hospitalizations, physician visits, and medications. Moreover, physical activity need not be strenuous to be beneficial; people of all ages benefit from moderate physical activity, such as 30 minutes of brisk walking five or more times a week.

Despite the proven benefits of physical activity, more than 60 percent of American adults do not get enough physical activity to provide health benefits. More than 25 percent are not active at all in their leisure time. Activity decreases with age and is less common among women than men and among those with lower income and less education.

Insufficient physical activity is not limited to adults. More than a third of young people in grades 9-12 do not regularly engage in vigorous physical activity. Daily participation in high school physical education classes dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 29 percent in 1999.


HHS supports a number of programs to promote better health for Americans of all ages through physical activity. These programs were created to engage the public and community organizations in taking steps to promote and encourage increased physical activity.

  1. A partnership with the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program to promote the development and use of neighborhood parks and recreation facilities.
  2. The development of a guidebook for public health practitioners to use in partnering with transportation and city-planning organizations to promote walking, cycling and neighborhood recreation facilities.
  3. CDC's Kids Walk-to-School Program encourages children to walk to and from school in groups accompanied by adults. Walking to school helps children be more physically active, practice safe pedestrian skills, and learn about their environment.
  4. The GreenStyles Survey, developed by CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency, assesses the effects of environmental, social and personal variables on walking and cycling.

More information is available at


Surveillance activities related to physical activity are guided by the mission to understand and promote physical activity to enhance health and quality of life, focusing on both youth and adults. Examples include:



Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at

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Last revised: Novemebr 18, 2003