Local Labor Market Fluctuations and Physical Activity Among Adults in the United States, 1990-2009

Published In: International Scholarly Research Network, ISRN Public Health, v. 2012, article ID 318610, 2012

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2012

by Ruopeng An, Junyi Liu

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Being physically active is a key health promotion strategy. The late-2000s economic downturn, labeled the "Great Recession," could have profound impact on individuals' health behaviors including engagement in physical activity. We investigated the relationship between local labor market fluctuations and physical activity among adults 18 years and older in the United States by linking individual-level data in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System 1990–2009 waves to unemployment rate data by residential county and survey month/year. The association between labor market fluctuations and physical activity was examined in multivariate regressions with county and month/year fixed effects. Deteriorating labor market conditions were found to predict decreases in physical activity—a one percentage point increase in monthly county unemployment rate was on average associated with a reduction in monthly moderate-intensity physical activity of 0.18 hours. There was some preliminary evidence on the heterogeneous responses of physical activity to local labor market fluctuations across age and income groups and races/ethnicities. Findings of this study suggest special attentions to be paid to the potential detrimental impact of major recessions on physical activity. This correlational study has design and measurement limitations. Future research with longitudinal or experimental study design is warranted.

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