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Our sedentary lifestyles, combined with unhealthy diets, are responsible for 300,000 early deaths each year in the U.S. Only tobacco is responsible for more preventable deaths. Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of obesity and many chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Even modest increases in activities such as walking and bicycling can have significant health benefits and help people lead longer, healthier lives. Still, studies show that less than half of U.S. children and adolescents meet the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommended requirements of at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous daily physical activity. Adults fare even worse. Less than 10 percent of U.S. adults get the recommended goal of 30 minutes of physical activity per day. The obesity rate in the U.S. has tripled for adolescents and quadrupled for children over the last four decades – and a prime culprit is physical inactivity.
Several public health policies have proven effective in promoting physical activity and reducing weight gain and obesity. Among these policies are improved physical activity standards in schools; increased walking and biking to work or school; and modified built environments, with streets and sidewalks accessible, attractive and safe for active travel, along with multiple bike lanes and multi-use trails. Many of these policies entail land use planning, recreational use statutes, and joint use agreements between entities to share the use of public properties or facilities.
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Safe Routes to School initiatives help communities and schools build safer sidewalks and crosswalks to increase walking and bicycling. The Public Health Law Center completed a 50-state review of Safe Routes to School state government initiatives, highlighting the laws in each state for easy review by advocates and policy makers.