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Improving Nutrition and Increasing Physical Activity

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Nutrition and Physical Activity At A Glance 2004

Prevention Effectiveness

Nutrition and Physical Activity Web Site

From 1987 to 2000, overweight and obesity increased dramatically among U.S. adults, and now obesity has reached epidemic proportions. Nearly 59 million adults are obese, and the percentage of young people who are overweight has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Fifteen percent of Americans aged 6–19 years are overweight. 

Effects of Physical Inactivity and Unhealthy Diets

  • Poor diet and physical inactivity lead to 300,000 deaths each year—second only to tobacco use.
  • People who are overweight or obese increase their risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis-related disabilities, and some cancers.
  • Not getting an adequate amount of exercise is associated with needing more medication, visiting a physician more often, and being hospitalized more often. 


  • The direct medical costs associated with physical inactivity was $29 billion in 1987 and nearly $76.6 billion in 2000.
  • The annual cost of obesity in the United States is about $117 billion.

Percentage of Adults Who Are Obese,* by State

Percentage of Adults Who Are Obese,* by State. Click below for text description.

*Body mass index greater than or equal to 30, or ~ 30 pounds overweight for 5'4" woman.
Source: CDC, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System..

(A text version of this graphic is also available.)


CDC Goals

  • To increase the amount of physical activity engaged in by adults and children.
  • To improve the dietary habits of children and adults.
  • To reduce the incidence of obesity and overweight in the United States.
  • To devise a comprehensive nutrition and physical activity surveillance system that will evaluate behaviors associated with chronic diseases and obesity. 

Effectiveness of Increasing Physical Activity

Modest, 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. Physical activity also helps to control weight; contributes to healthy bones, muscles, and joints; helps to relieve the pain of arthritis; and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Examples of CDC Activities

In FY2001, Congress appropriated $16.2 million to address physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and obesity, which allowed CDC to increase its research program and to provide funding to more states to establish programs. 

CDC develops state and community interventions that promote physical activity and good nutrition. For example, CDC 

  • Administers WISEWOMAN, a program that screens women for heart disease and other chronic disease risk factors, and refers them to follow-up if needed. WISEWOMAN has 12 programs in 11 states across the country.
  • Sponsors Active Community Environments Initiative (ACES), a program to promote walking, biking, and accessible recreation facilities.

In 2001, CDC 

  • Evaluated insurance reimbursement for obesity interventions and treatments.
  • Continued its investigation of the relationships between unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, obesity, and chronic diseases.

CDC Funding for Nutrition and Physical Activity to Prevent Chronic Diseases and Obesity, FY 2001

U.S. Map showing CDC funding for nutrition and physical activity to prevent chronic diseases and obesity, FY 2001. No CDC/NCCDPHP Funding (38 States). Funding for Core Program (12 States): California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington.  Funding for Comprehensive Programs (0 States).

Examples of State Activities

Louisiana: An analysis of data from the Bogalusa, Louisiana, heart study found that overweight and obesity among children aged 5–17 years had increased more than three-fold from 1973 to 1994. Moreover, 58% of the overweight children had at least one additional risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and more than 20% had two or more risk factors. 

South Carolina: The KidsWalk-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. The Walkable South Carolina Committee of the South Carolina Governor’s Council on Physical Activity awarded $12,500 in grants to 58 schools around the state for Walk-to-School Day in 1999 and 2000. These grants pro-mote policy and environ-mental changes that make walking and bicycling a year-round activity for everyone. CDC provided the KidsWalk-to-School Guide to help communities develop, implement, and evaluate their walking programs. 

Related Information

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This page last reviewed August 10, 2004

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