Increase physical activity and good nutrition, and decrease tobacco use

% of adolescents in grades 9-12 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 children and adolescents aged 6-17 years should have 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. Most of that time should be spent doing aerobic activity. In 2015, the percent of Vermont adolescents grades 9-12 who do not meet daily aerobic physical activity recommendations is 77%, up from 75% in 2013.

One cause of this change may be due to the use of computers and other devices with screens which have decreased the amount of time youth move and play. Participation in physical activity decreases with age, and the decline is greater in girls than boys. 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 Agency of Education’s Educational Quality Standards include a provision that schools offer physical activity before, during or after the school day. The Vermont Department of Health partners with the Agency of Education in promoting this to schools, including providing resources to schools on implementation of the standard.

What Works

Schools play a critical role in improving the physical activity behaviors of children and adolescents. Schools can create environments supportive of students’ efforts to be active by implementing policies and practices that support regular physical activity (pg. 6) and by providing opportunities for students to learn about and practice these behaviors. However, to have the most positive impact on adolescent health, government agencies, community organizations, schools, and other community members must work together in a comprehensive approach.

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Midcourse Report: Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Youth, wide implementation of “multi-component school-based programs” is recommended. These types of programs provide enhanced physical education (PE) (e.g., increased lesson time, delivery by well-trained specialists, and instructional practices that provide substantial moderate-to-vigorous physical activity), as well as classroom activity breaks, activity sessions before and/or after school, and active transportation to school.

The way land is used in a community (the “built environment”) is important because this can offer the potential to increase activity for all youth, 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.


Local school wellness policies (i.e., wellness policies) provide an opportunity to create and support physical activity in schools with the goal of promoting student health, and reducing childhood obesity. They also support the implementation of multi-component school based programs that support physical activity. Children across Vermont will be reached through implementation of these policies, because they are required for all school districts participating in the federal Child Nutrition Programs. The Vermont Department of Health worked with the Agency of Education, Agency of Agriculture and others, to create and revise the Vermont School Wellness Policy Guidelines to support schools in development and implementation of wellness policies.

Why Is This Important?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular aerobic 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. Evidence also shows that students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance and classroom behaviors.

A sedentary lifestyle is recognized as a major risk factor for obesity and cardiovascular disease. The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents is a major public health concern, and weight-related health problems are being diagnosed earlier in childhood.

Notes on Methodology

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is a paper survey administered in Vermont middle and high schools every two years since 1993. The survey is sponsored by the Department of Health's Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, and the Department of Education's Coordinated School Health Programs and the CDC. The YRBS measures the prevalence of behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death, disease, and injury among youth. Vermont surveys over 30,000 students at each administration. Weighted data is compiled to generate a representative state sample, and local data is used by schools, supervisory unions, health programs and other local organizations. The YRBS is completed in over 40 other states and there is a national weighted sample for comparison. Data are updated as it becomes available and timing is based on when results from the survey are released.

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.

Note that prior to 2013, statewide estimates were generated by weighting repossess from a representative sample of schools. In 2013, the methodology was changed and all student responses were used in creating statewide estimates, allowing for more accurate reporting. 2011 data were recalculated in the same way as 2013 data in order to improve comparisons.

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