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September 15th, 2010
02:03 PM ET

How Americans spend day: Eating, TV, socializing

Americans spend most of their non-work and non-sleep time in sedentary activities such as eating and drinking, followed by watching TV or movies, according to an analysis of time use.

On a given day, only 5.07 percent reported doing any vigorous intensity activity, according to the research published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The survey was a snapshot of any day in America and should not be interpreted to mean that only 5 percent of people exercise, said study author, Catrine Tudor-Locke.

"Let’s say you are a runner," she said.  "You don’t run seven days a week. You don’t run five days a week.  You might run three days a week, but if you were queried on any of those days you didn’t run, you weren't in the 5 percent."

"People who exercise don’t necessarily do that back-to-back everyday. But you eat and drink everyday, so you will see that on an everyday basis," said Tudor-Locke, the director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

The most frequently reported moderate activity was food and drink preparation.

Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center analyzed data from the American Time Use Survey. This survey is administered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that captures how people spend their time, by asking respondents to recap their activities for the last 24 hours. They looked at data from 2003-2008 from close to 80,000 respondents.

With about two-thirds of Americans considered overweight or obese, these results may not be all that surprising.

Here are the top activities:

The most frequent sedentary activities
1) eating and drinking (95.6 percent)
2) watching TV/movies (80.1 percent)
3) communicating with others (37.2 percent)

The most frequent light activities
1) washing, dressing, and grooming oneself (78.9 percent)
2) driving (71.4 percent)
3) housework, interior cleaning (50.6 percent)

The most frequent moderate activities
1) food and drink preparation (25.7 percent)
2) lawn, garden, and houseplant care (10.6 percent)
3) storing interior household items, including food (6.46 percent)

The most frequent vigorous activities
1) cardiovascular equipment (2.2 percent)
2) running (1.1 percent)
3) aerobics (0.49 percent)


soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. DUH

    That is why we are the fattest nation on the planet and we are insanely obsessed with weight. What is up with that?

    September 15, 2010 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jon

      The United States of America – Land of the free, Home of the Brave . . . And the capital country of contradictions.

      September 16, 2010 at 00:20 | Report abuse |
    • adasd

      I am waiting for all americans to get too fat to move or care... then I make my move... ¬_¬

      September 16, 2010 at 02:22 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Because being thin is prestigious when social and environmental conditions make it difficult to be thin. Also, being large is prestigious when circumstances make it difficult to be large, such as in traditional, small-scale, or developing countries where people have less access to food and are engaged in more physical activity.

      Why is this so? Because if you have the time and money to spend working on yourself instead of working on surviving, it says a great deal about how much power and prestige you have. If you were able to spend most of your time and a substantial amount of your money on working out, eating expensive and nutritious health foods, this would necessarily mean that you are in a position where you are exempt from the drudgery most people are required to partake of. In our society that generally means sitting at a desk or standing at a cash register.

      September 16, 2010 at 10:31 | Report abuse |
  2. Dali

    Huh? Storing interior household items, including food and food and drink preparation are moderate activities and housework, interior cleaning is a light activity? I want to know how they clean!

    September 15, 2010 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sarah

      they clean like my boyfriend cleans.... that is truly "light activity"..... 😉

      September 15, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
    • what

      the list doesnt make any sense. Only 78% of people wash and groom themselves? and only 25% prepare their food? How does that work?

      September 15, 2010 at 17:50 | Report abuse |
    • adasd

      @ sarah

      HA!11!1 -_-

      September 16, 2010 at 02:23 | Report abuse |
    • Mama Wrench

      What'll you bet this study cost $100,000 in federal grants?

      My body is still sore from weeding my entire front garden yesterday, and I'm in reasonably good shape (5'0", 108). How on Earth do they figure that gardening the fruits and vegetables requires as much exercise as cooking those same fruits and vegetables? Or are they only counting light activity like watering plants? 'Cause I've certainly never pulled a muscle cooking!

      September 16, 2010 at 09:09 | Report abuse |
  3. Sndp

    This right here is the main cause of obesity and being over-weight:

    The most frequent moderate activities
    1) food and drink preparation (25.7 percent

    On a given day, only a quarter of the folks cook? Bump that number up and you'll see the difference in health.

    September 15, 2010 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • D

      At the same time, how many people are cooking for more than just themselves? I don't cook every day – but I do eat a home-cooked meal almost every day (maybe we go out to eat or order pizza once a week). I do agree that the number should increase, though – there are plenty of people that use McDonald's as their primary source of food.

      September 16, 2010 at 08:24 | Report abuse |
  4. Boka

    I don't think americans get enough sex. Including myself.

    September 15, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Bob

    Pump it up, Wussies! No more watching TV, time to hit the Gym.. No more beer, produces to much Estrogen! Get out of your cars and walk a little!

    September 15, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Amer

    The article doesn't state what the European, Asian, or other countries activity levels are. "Duh", you state that this is "why we are the fattest nation on the planet". The article mentions nothing about other countries levels of activity. Your point has nothing to do with the article.

    Personally, I thought this article was dumb and pointless. What sociologist considers eating and talking with others as activity? That seems more like survival than an option. It is optional to go to the gym every day, it is not optional to communicate and eat every day. To make this a more purposeful study I think they need to refine what their definition of activity is; then perhaps the numbers will show what is more realistic day in the life of an american.

    September 15, 2010 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Amer

      Then again, I am fat and proud!

      September 15, 2010 at 16:32 | Report abuse |
    • Dunbar

      Actually Amer, Duh's comment is on point. We are fat BECAUSE we spend the majority of our time eating, watching television and socializing. We can thank modern technology for that. It has made us fatter and dumber.

      September 15, 2010 at 16:36 | Report abuse |
  7. Dali

    I really do not know what to make of these results: 4.4% of people in this study did not eat or drink in a 24hour period? 21.1% of people did not dress, wash or groom in a 24 hour period? Who were these respondents?

    September 15, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dali

      Or, maybe, how were these questions asked?

      September 15, 2010 at 15:53 | Report abuse |
  8. Alisha

    I agree that this research is not defined well enough. Interior cleaning can burn a lot of calories; I don't see how that is "light" and storing food is "moderate" Also, many people do a lot of movement and exercise at work; it's understandable that when they get home most days they want to relax and escape into TV or movies.

    September 15, 2010 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Slamburger

      Just walk down the street Alisha and see how trim everyone is not. That speaks volumes. We don't need a study to tell us we are a nation of chunkasauruses!

      September 15, 2010 at 16:34 | Report abuse |
  9. Nishi

    Pshh I will not be doin any a that cardiovascular running I like my curves that you very much! *chomps on fried chicken leg*

    September 15, 2010 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dc

      any "of" that

      english please

      September 16, 2010 at 13:16 | Report abuse |
  10. kyle

    If your exercise consists of cleaning the house you are NOT exercising enough. Cleaning is not equivalent to jogging or even walking fast. If you're tired of myths like that check out http://www.diet-myths.com

    September 15, 2010 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Willow

    This "resarch" needs more specifics.

    Also if you scrub your floor on your knees for a long period of time, that is pretty good exercise. And vaccuum the whole place on the same day...

    September 15, 2010 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RML

    A useless "study."

    September 16, 2010 at 06:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. mythoughts

    I'm suprised with the unemployment rate as high as it is that there are still fat people out there. Hubby lost his really nice paying job last year and then we lost the car. So now he works a job that we are thankful to have but between the two of us, we make too much for food stamps or help. So there is hardly any food money and he rides a bicycle to and from work. My job requires use of our vehicle and I spend my days driving and melting in the sun – the AC is broken and the lunches spoil quickly in the car, even with the use of a cooler of ice. So I usually eat a very light lunch so I make sure to eat bfast and dinner. We can't afford cable so we are not sitting around watching much tv these days. We exercise more now that we are "near being on the street broke" than we ever did when we were in the army. If you can imagine that. And with 3 kids – the food doesn't last long. America is fat because we have/had jobs that paid so much more than we actually needed and jobs that provided us with too many means to be lazy. Now that those jobs are gone, I bet a lot more people are in shape. Maybe not in a good mood, but at least getting into shape.

    September 16, 2010 at 06:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Name2

      I think you're naive. Most people you're describing qualify for food stamps, and a lot of those people will be buying colas, ice cream, white bread, and so on with their food stamps. They'll be less active, because they don't have to be moving around the office for 8 hours at work. Some will get depressed and watch TV or sleep all day...

      September 16, 2010 at 12:07 | Report abuse |
  14. A. Nony

    Food and drink preparation on a par with lawn and garden work? Putting away food more strenuous than cleaning the house?
    Taking a shower on a par with cleaning the house? And, driving sure looks sedentary to me. This BLS survey is BS.

    September 16, 2010 at 06:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. george

    http://www.tinyurl.com/366lrp6 –this is how i cut 10lbs in 2 weeks.

    September 16, 2010 at 08:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GZ

      This article is terrible. It starts out by telling you that it is basically invalid in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs. Then the list of "activities"??? Food and drink preparation is a moderate activity? You've got to be kidding me with this garbage. I wonder what wiping my butt would be considered. How about typing a critique of this crap article?

      September 16, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse |
  16. Maria

    Apparently 4.4% of people do not eat at all in a day; that is more than all vigorous activity combined.

    September 16, 2010 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Billy

    How is driving a light activity? How is cleaning a moderate activity. This is part of the problem, overestimating how much work you are doing. Cleaning the house is just like walking around, which is light activity.

    September 16, 2010 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. marie

    This is true... I moved to the states from Italy 9 years ago when I married My husband and before I moved here I had only been in a car a handful of times because I walked everywhere or took a train. When I moved here I had to learn to drive because everything is so spread out. In the first year I lived here I gained 33lbs and for the first time in my life had to watch what I eat. I love my American rights and freedoms but the ability to walk almost everywhere or take public transit is the one thing that I miss from Europe.

    September 17, 2010 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. george

    I'll ask you this: When was the last time you walked one mile? and if you did, what was the inpact of your body: heart rate, level of pain, fatigue? Well, I found out that most of the aches and pains vanished one shortly after starting a low level of activity. After one year of workout I increased my fitness level: I spend 5 hours on the bike (6 miles), on the track (brisk walking, jogging, running, sprinting) so now I can jog for 2 miles without stopping, and then I get back on my bike for another 26 miles. I climb 29 floors on workdays, with no stops. I can walk for 12 miles, at 4.3 miles/hour. The thing about it is: I enjoy all these activities a lot and cannot believe that I have been wasting so much time before that.
    My advice to you all: Become active now, not tomorrow, relearn how to breathe, walk, jog, bike, out in the open air: There is no better recipe for health. Just stay within the levels of fitness, and add a little more activity each day. Just start walking and you'll in how many ways your body will thank you for it. Good Luck, and see you on the Bikeway, and in the park.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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