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% of adults with low socioeconomic status who do not meet aerobic physical activity guidelines


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Story Behind the Curve

Everybody needs physical activity for good health, however, as of 2017, 54% of low SES Vermonters did not met the aerobic physical activity guidelines as compared to 40% of all Vermonters not meeting the guidelines.  Because the Vermont Department of Health began collecting and calculating data on this measure in 2017, there is no trend shown. This will be reported in future years.

Regular physical activity helps improve overall health and fitness and reduces the risk of many chronic diseases.  The US Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends people get 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Moderate physical activities include, but are not limited to biking slowly, dancing, gardening, using a manual wheelchair, arm cycling, and brisk walking. Examples of vigorous activities are basketball, jumping rope, running or bicycling on hills, soccer, and swimming laps.

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 Vermont Department of Health works with partners to support municipal level, environmental and policy approaches to improve access to places to be physically active. These strategies benefit low SES Vermonters because they provide free and safe places to be active that are accessible to all. They contribute to building a culture within communities where all residents, regardless of income or education are active, reducing stigma. 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 - emphasizing workplaces that offer lower wage positions such as service industries, transportation workers, farming - 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 500 worksite wellness professionals.

Why Is This Important?

Being physically active has many benefits and is one of the most important things people can do to improve their health. Regular physical activity can reduce the burden of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, and can prevent early death. Physical activity can also help people with chronic diseases manage their conditions. Physical activity has other health benefits, too. It can help people manage weight and prevent falls. Physical activity can even reduce depression and may improve cognitive abilities.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition, any amount of physical activity is beneficial. Ideally, though, adults should do at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (like walking), 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or a combination each week.

This indicator is part of Healthy Vermonters 2020 State Health Assessment that documents the health status of Vermonters at the start of the decade and the population health indicators and goals that will guide the work of public health through 2020.

This indicator is also part of the State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP), a five-year plan that prioritizes broad Healthy Vermonters 2020 goals: reducing prevalence of chronic disease, reducing prevalence of substance abuse and mental illness, and improving childhood immunizations. The SHIP is a subset of HV2020 and details strategies and planned interventions.

Notes on Methodology

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

Vermont tracks risk behaviors and chronic disease using a telephone survey of adults called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS). Vermont participates in the BRFSS with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( The results are weighted to represent the adult population (18 or older) of the state.

Low socioeconomic status (SES) are individuals who have a high school or less education and live in households with annual incomes less than 250% of the federal poverty level (FPL). Every other year the BRFSS includes questions about physical activity, including how often and the intensity people are physically active in an average week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that U.S. adults engage in at least 150-minutes of moderate or 75-minutes of vigorous activity, these breakpoints therefore are used to generate data on whether aerobic physical activity guidelines have been met or not.

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 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.

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