Increase physical activity and good nutrition, and decrease tobacco use

% of adults who do NOT meet daily aerobic physical activity recommendations


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Story Behind the Curve

Updated March 2017

Author: Physical Activity and Nutrition Program, Vermont Department of Health

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommend that adults should have 150 minutes each week of moderate intensity aerobic or 75 minutes each week of vigorous intensity aerobic activity. In 2015, the percent of Vermont adults who do not meet daily aerobic physical activity recommendations is 41%, a level it has been since 2011.

We live in an increasingly sedentary society, in part due to decreases in work which requires being physically active (farming, factory work) and due to increased use of computers and other devices with screens which decrease the amount of time people move around. The rural nature of Vermont and its inadequate “active transportation” infrastructure (i.e. incomplete sidewalks, lack of bicycle facilities and public transit) further adds to youth (and adults) spending additional time sitting in cars to get to where they need or want to go.

The Vermont Department of Health works to encourage daily aerobic physical activity through healthy community design to promote walking and biking and technical assistance and small grants to small employers to develop worksite wellness programs. We also work with the partners below to broaden our reach.

What Works

According to the Guide to Community Preventive Services, behavior change programs, social supports, community-wide informational campaigns, and environmental and policy approaches, are all recommended for increasing rates of physical activity. This may include educating individuals about the benefits of physical activity and teaching them skills on ways to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines, engaging many sectors to promote messages and support physical activity and creating safe, accessible places for people to be active (sidewalks, parks, bike lanes). Each of these alone is effective, however, implementing several or all would provide additional benefit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also outlines a number of ways adults can increase their levels of physical activity: individuals can make a commitment to be more active alone, with friends, family members, co-workers; employers can offer opportunities for employees to be more active during the work day; state and local governments may create walk and bike friendly communities; the federal government can implement polices to make physical activity accessible for everyone.

The way land is used in a community (the “built environment”) is important because this can offer the potential to increase activity for all people, not only those who elect to participate in specific programs or activities, which may be affected by socioeconomic factors. Multiple stakeholders play an important role in promoting physical activity in this setting, including those in transportation, town and regional planning, and public safety, whose primary mission is not physical activity promotion.


The Vermont Department of Health works with partners to support community leaders to develop municipal level, environmental and policy approaches to improve access to places to be physically active. State partners (listed above) have developed and offered training and other resources (grant funding, toolkits, fact sheets) to community coalitions and municipal and regional planners on ways to improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities; parks, recreation and open spaces; and support mixed use development (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Recommended Community Strategies to Prevent Obesity in the United States). Office of Local Health staff are available to support local partners with this work.

In addition, the Health Department leads a Worksite Wellness program that includes a focus on helping workplaces develop and implement policies, systems and environmental strategies to support employee physical activity. The State has developed a toolkit for worksites, provides grants, technical assistance and support to worksites (through the Offices of Local Health) and, with partners, hosts an annual conference to recognize workplace wellness programs and provide training to over 400 worksite wellness professionals.

Why Is This Important?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular aerobic activity in adulthood improves strength and endurance, reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, helps control weight, reduces anxiety and stress, increases self-esteem, and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

A sedentary lifestyle is recognized as a major risk factor for obesity and cardiovascular disease. The prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults is a major public health concern, and weight-related chronic diseases are becoming increasingly common in adults.

Notes on Methodology

Vermont tracks risk behaviors and chronic disease using a telephone survey of adults called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS). Since 1990, Vermont, along with the 49 other states, Washington D.C. and U.S. territories, has participated in the BRFSS with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( The CDC provides the Vermont Department of Health with funding each year to carry out the survey. Several thousand Vermonters are randomly and anonymously selected and called annually, on both landlines and cell phones. An adult (18 or older) is asked a uniform set of questions. The results are weighted to represent the adult population of the state.

Note that beginning in 2011 the CDC implemented changes to the BRFSS weighting methodology in order to more accurately represent the adult population. While this makes calculations more representative of the population, the changes in methodology also limit the ability to compare results from 2011 forward with those from previous years. The Vermont Department of Health recommends that comparisons between BRFSS data from 2011 forward and earlier years be made with caution. Statistical differences may be due to methodological changes, rather than changes in opinion or behavior.

Prevalence and percentages are calculated by using descriptive statistical procedures using software such as SPSS, SAS, and/or SUDAAN. These statistics describe the proportion of individuals with a given trait in the population during a specified period of time.

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