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PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND OVERWEIGHT

Results from the 2003 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that almost two-thirds (62.6 percent) of high school students regularly participated in sufficient vigorous physical activity, and almost one-quarter (24.7 percent) participated in sufficient moderate physical activity. Just over half (51.9 percent) performed regular strengthening exercises, while 57.6 percent played on one or more sports teams. Nationwide, 55.7 percent of students were enrolled in a physical education class, although the percentage is far higher in the younger grades (71 percent of 9th graders) than in the older grades (39.5 percent of 12th graders). The percentage of students attending daily physical education classes has dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 28.4 percent in 2003.

While 29.6 percent of high school students described themselves as overweight in 2003, 43.8 percent of students were trying to lose weight. Among all racial and ethnic groups, males were more likely to be overweight, while females were more likely to perceive themselves as such. Among high-school males, 17.4 percent were overweight compared to 9.4 percent of females, while 36.1 percent of females described themselves as overweight compared to 23.5 percent of males.

In an attempt to lose weight or to prevent themselves from gaining weight, 42.2 percent of students engaged in healthy behaviors such as eating less food, fewer calories, or foods lower in fat. In addition, 57.1 percent of students exercised for the same purpose. Females were more likely to engage in such weight control behaviors than males; 56.2 percent of females used food as a way to control weight compared to 28.9 percent of males, and 65.7 percent used exercise compared to 49 percent of males. In contrast to these healthy behaviors, 13.3 percent of students went without eating for more than 24 hours in an attempt to lose weight, 9.2 percent took diet pills, powders, or liquids without the advice of a doctor, and 6.0 percent vomited or took laxatives. Again, such behaviors are more common among female students than males.

The HealthierUS Initiative provides credible, accurate information about physical fitness, nutrition, and prevention to help Americans of all ages to make healthy choices.

Graph: Physical Activity Among High School Students[d]