Women interviewed for the study were almost twice as likely as men to be physically inactive, say Antronette Yancey, M.D., M.P.H., of the UCLA School of Public Health and colleagues. Older and less educated residents, along with those born outside the United States, were also apt to be sedentary.
The findings appear in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Sedentary behavior was more prevalent among those who said they were depressed or in poor health, the researchers found. Yancey and colleagues also found that feeling overweight was a better predictor of physical inactivity than actual measures of overweight like body mass indices.
And once again, more "screen time" seems to equal less exercise: County residents who spent three or more hours a day watching television or using a computer in their leisure time reported the highest levels of physical inactivity.
"While much attention in advertising and the media has been devoted to the obesity epidemic, it may also be important to promote physical activity independent of weight loss," Yancey says.
The researchers say government agencies could promote more exercise among residents by becoming activity-friendly workplaces themselves.
"Sedentary, overweight and diverse captive audiences of adults can be engaged in physical activity during the routine conduct of business," Yancey suggests.
"Society must share with its members some of the 'cost' of adopting and maintaining an active lifestyle," they add.
The study included data from a 1999-2000 random telephone survey of 8,353 Los Angeles County residents. The survey participants, all adults, were interviewed in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese.
The Los Angeles findings mirror those of other studies, which suggest 30 percent of Americans get little or no regular weekly exercise.
"Similar to the challenge of minimizing tobacco smoke exposure two decades ago, the United States epidemic of obesity and sedentariness is now of sufficient social magnitude and cost that increasing physical activity participation can no longer be treated as an individual responsibility," Yancey says.
The study was supported by the California Department of Health Services and the Los Angeles County Medicaid Demonstration Project.
BY BECKY HAM, SCIENCE WRITER
HEALTH BEHAVIOR NEWS SERVICE
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