Comments from the
Commentaries on Physical Activity and Health
Physical activity is the “best buy” for Americans
by Kenneth Powell, MD, MPH
In 1994, Professor Jeremy Morris, speaking at a symposium honoring Dr. Ralph Paffenbarger’s 70th birthday, proclaimed physical activity as the “Best Buy in Public Health.” Morris and Paffenbarger are the founding fathers of physical activity as a public health issue because of their seminal epidemiologic research in the 20th century. Today, more than 20 years later, bargain-hunting American consumers who usually buy anything “on sale,” aren’t buying. For more than 20 years, the estimated proportion of Americans meeting the recommended volume for weekly physical activity has been stable. Little or no change has occurred except when the measurement device or the definition of recommended activity has changed. Americans today are less active than Americans 50 years ago because the volume of “baseline physical activity” – the physical activity of everyday activities – has declined. Most Americans who meet current guidelines are no more and probably less active than the less active comparison groups in the research studies of Professors Morris and Paffenbarger. Was Dr. Morris wrong? Is physical activity not the “best buy” we thought it was? And if it is, why aren’t we buying?