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Reversing the Epidemic
of Inactivity

Our Position

Research has shown that physical inactivity increases the risk of developing numerous preventable health conditions( 1 ) that contribute greatly to our skyrocketing healthcare costs. Research has also demonstrated that engaging in regular physical activity contributes to an individual’s overall feeling of well-being. Accordingly, ACE seeks public policies that will reverse the epidemic of inactivity by making physical activity more accessible, abundant, and compelling across populations, communities, and lifespans.


Evidence confirms that physical inactivity has become one of the 10 leading risk factors for death worldwide( 2 ). The U.S. has seen a significant decline in the number of individuals engaging in physical activity—affecting every race, gender and age. The number of children who participate in at least one hour of physical activity per day has dropped to 25 percent, while only 55 percent of adults get the physical activity needed to achieve the associated health benefits( 3 ). It does not take an extraordinary amount of physical activity to reduce the health risks related to sedentary lifestyles—just a brisk, 20-minute walk each day has significant health benefits( 4 ). Addressing the inactivity epidemic will have a widespread impact on obesity and its related chronic diseases, as well as overall quality of life.

Physical inactivity also causes economic harm, at both the systems level and the individual level. Physical inactivity accounts for roughly 8.7 percent of U.S. healthcare expenditures, or approximately $117 billion per year.( 5 ) Never before has being physically active had the potential to create such substantial savings in terms of attenuating healthcare costs. Physically active adults pay $1,500 less per year in healthcare costs than those who are inactive( 5 )—meaning that physical inactivity robs both the U.S. economy and the wallets of individuals and families.

ACE believes public-policy change must be part of the solution, but there is no magic pill. What is needed is a comprehensive, strategic slate of policies reversing the decades-long trend that has inadvertently engineered physical activity out of daily life. The opportunity for policymakers to think across sectors, communities, ideologies, and other boundaries to re-evolve systems, infrastructures, and the mindsets of the U.S. population so that being physically active, and deriving all the benefits that result from doing so, can become an integral, celebrated part of being American.

Public Policy Priorities

ACE supports public policies that better equip individuals, families and communities to increase their physical activity levels and decrease sedentary behavior, that allow and encourage easy access to safe and affordable physical activity across locale and demographics, and that incentivize innovation in support of these aims. Specifically, ACE calls for public policies that:

  • Invest in initiatives that help transform the built environment—to create more sustainably active communities that are accessible across the population, regardless of demographic.
  • Incentivize employers to put in place programs and policies that enable and motivate people to stay moving on the job, and incentivize building and workspace planners to consider a workforces’ physical-activity needs in the design of workplace structures.
  • Require compelling and abundant physical education for grades K-12 and recess in elementary schools; and require physical activity to be a component of all before-school, after-school and summer programs that receive government funding.
  • Support the development and sustainability of a well-trained workforce to deliver relevant and diverse physical-activity programming in the community and recognize that non-traditional practitioners, such as well-qualified fitness professionals, are a logical foundation.
  • Increase opportunities for physical activity that is inclusive to individuals with disabilities.
  • Advocate for greater funding of physical inactivity research and programs for all populations at both the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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1.   Lee, I.M., Shiroma, E. J., Lobelo, F., Puska, P., Blair, S. N., & Katzmarzyk, P. T. (2012). Impact of Physical Inactivity on the World’s Major Non-Communicable Diseases. Lancet, 380(9838), 219–229. Retrieved from: doi.org

2.   World Health Organization (2016). Physical Activity. Retreived from: who.int

3.   Trust for America’s Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2016). The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America. Retrieved from: stateofobesity.org

4.   Lewis, S.F., Hennekens, C.H. (2016). Regular Physical Activity: Forgotten Benefits. The American Journal of Medicine, 129(2). 137-138. Retrieved from: dx.doi.org

5.   Carlson, S. A., Fulton, J. E., Pratt, M., Yang, Z., & Adams, E. K. (2015). Inadequate Physical Activity and Health Care Expenditures in the United States. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 57(4), 315–323. Retreived from: doi.org