Signs of More Walking in the United States

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December 10, 2012
By David Berrigan
Signs of More Walking in the United States

Recently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted trends in walking and opportunities to increase walking via environmental change through “Vital Signs”, a call to action each month concerning a single, important public health topic. Vital Signs also includes a detailed analysis of walking data based on 2005 and 2010 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data. Inclusion of walking in the Vital Signs series points to CDC’s interest in promoting active living. The CDC data confirms the high prevalence of walking in the US population – 6 in 10 US adults report some walking, and the number of people reporting a bout of 10 minutes or more of walking per week increased from 55.7% in 2005 to 62.0% in 2010. Furthermore, adults who self-report walking are much more likely to report sufficient leisure time physical activity to meet the US guidelines for aerobic activity.

These results are exciting because they suggest that people are either getting more active, (or they are more conscious of the desirability of physical activity and therefore reporting more activity). Either case is a step in the right direction given the health benefits of walking. More analysis is possible using the NCI funded NHIS cancer control supplement and its items about walking for leisure and transportation. Including questions about both leisure and transportation walking is a major plus of this survey.  However, there are features of walking not captured by the survey. For example, I often take my sons on a ‘Spanish walk’. We walk through a neighborhood park and quiz each other on Spanish words with flash cards – it is not clear if these walks are leisure, transportation, or some other kind of walk. It also occurs to me that our walks have a strong social and familial function. Surveys that measure these functions are few and information in this area might help guide interventions aimed at both children and adults. Cognitive interviews suggest that people often see their walks as having multiple functions. For example, a walk may be in part for exercise, but include a stop at the grocery store. This Vital Signs report provides strategies to increase walking and inspires new questions about how to measure walking and its purposes.

About the author

David Berrigan, PhD, MPH, is a Biologist in the Office of the Associate Director of the Applied Research Program in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute. Read Dr. Berrigan's bio here.

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