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Physical Activity

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National, State, and Local Programs

Physical activity reduces the risk of premature mortality in general, and of coronary heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes mellitus in particular.1 Regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles, helps control weight, reduces anxiety and stress, increases self-esteem, and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels.1 Positive experiences with physical activity at a young age help lay the basis for being regularly active throughout life.1 The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture recommend that young people (ages 6–19) engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.2  In 2005, 36% of high school students had participated in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity on 5 or more of the last 7 days, and only 33% attended physical education class daily. Participation in physical activity declines strikingly as children age.3

checkmarkPhysical Activity and the Health of Young People  

checkmarkHow CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health is Addressing Physical Activity [pdf 1.8MB]

Data & Statistics

School Health Policies and Programs Study
SHPPS is a national survey periodically conducted to assess school health policies and programs at the state, district, school, and classroom levels, including those related to physical activity.

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System
The YRBSS monitors behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth and adults in the United States.

Science-based Strategies

The Role of Schools in Addressing Childhood Obesity [pdf 627K] outlines 10 evidence-based strategies for schools to implement in addressing childhood obesity.

See Physical Activity: School and Community Guidelines for strategies most likely to be effective in promoting physical activity among young people. Information includes the full text as published in the MMWR, summary of the guidelines, and more.

Physical Education Curriculum Analysis ToolPhysical Education Curriculum Analysis Tool. The Physical Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (PECAT) will help school districts conduct a clear, complete, and consistent analysis of written physical education curricula, based upon national physical education standards. The PECAT is customizable to include local standards. The results from the analysis can help school districts enhance existing curricula, develop their own curricula, or select a published curriculum, for the delivery of quality physical education in schools.

Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT). The Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT) can help school districts, schools, and others conduct a clear, complete, and consistent analysis of health education curricula based on the National Health Education Standards and CDC’s Characteristics of Effective Health Education Curricula. The HECAT results can help schools select or develop appropriate and effective health education curricula and improve the delivery of health education to address healthy eating, physical activity and other health education topics. The HECAT can be customized to meet local community needs and conform to the curriculum requirements of the state or school district.

The School Health Index can help schools implement school health guidelines and related strategies. This self-assessment and planning tool enables schools to identify the strengths and weaknesses of health promotion policies and programs and assists schools in developing an action plan for improving the school environment.

Physical Activity Brochures are designed to help parents, teachers, and principals increase physical activity among elementary and middle school-aged youth.

Registries of Programs Effective in Reducing Youth Risk Behaviors. Various federal agencies have identified youth-related programs that they consider worthy of recommendation based on expert opinion or a review of design and research evidence. These programs focus on different health topics, risk behaviors, and settings, including physical activity.

The Body Mass Index Measurement in Schools article describes the purpose of school-based BMI surveillance and screening programs, examine current practices, and review research on BMI measurement programs. The article summarizes the recommendations of experts, identifies concerns surrounding programs, and outlines needs for future research. Guidance is provided on specific safeguards that need to be addressed before schools decide to collect BMI information.

Policy Guidance

Local Wellness Policy Tools & Resources provides links to tools and resources for schools to assist with the development of local wellness policies in accordance with the June 2004 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act (Sec 204).

National, State, and Local Programs

CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) supports the development and implementation of effective health promotion policies and programs that address priority health risks among youth. For information about the actions that state agencies can implement to address these health risks, see CDC's:

 Promising Practices in Chronic Disease Prevention and Control. Atlanta: CDC, 2003.
  Ch.7: Promoting Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for a Healthier Nation [pdf 370K]
  Ch.9: Building a Healthier Future Through School Health Programs [pdf 400K]

Steps to a HealthierUS is an initiative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that advances the goal of helping Americans live longer, better, and healthier lives. The Steps Cooperative Agreement Program funds 40 communities nationwide to implement school and other community-based programs that address obesity, diabetes, and asthma, as well as their related risk behaviors: physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and tobacco use. 

VERB. It's what you do."VERB. It’s what you do." was a national, multicultural, social marketing campaign designed to encourage young people ages 9–13 years (tweens) to be physically active every day. The campaign combined paid advertising, marketing strategies, and partnership efforts to reach the distinct audiences of tweens and adult influencers.


  1. CDC. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996.
  2. CDC. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005.
  3. CDC. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2005 [pdf 1.2M] Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report 2006;55(SS-5):1–108.

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Page last reviewed: August 20, 2008
Page last modified: August 20, 2008
Content source: National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Adolescent and School Health

Division of Adolescent and School Health
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Department of Health and Human Services