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Pedometers Tested As Step to More Exercise

McDonald's, others try a simple device to get people moving

FRIDAY, Sept. 26, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Can an inexpensive device that clips onto your belt and tracks your steps really turn a nation of exercise slouches into healthier, more active adults?

Some researchers think so, and so do the organizers of a campaign called America on the Move, launched this summer to encourage inactive Americans to clip on a pedometer and log an extra 2,000 steps a day to start.

More recently, McDonald's has joined the party, passing out pedometers with its Go Active Meal, now being test marketed in Indiana.

The premise is simple: If your idea of exercise is changing channels manually, grab a pedometer, clip it on, and try to walk an extra 2,000 steps a day.

It won't turn you into a buffed person -- or even a super fit one -- as the organizers of the America on the Move program concede. But it's meant as a first step, says Wendy Artman, a spokeswoman for the campaign.

You might just catch the exercise habit.

And if enough people do it, it might help stem the tide of inactivity and the growing epidemic of obesity, they say. From 1988 to 1994, the percent of U.S. adults classified as obese rose from 23 percent to 31 percent, according to the officials at America on the Move, citing government statistics.

Only 26.2 percent of the U.S. population gets the recommended amount of exercise -- that means 30 minutes of physical activity (the equivalent of 3,000 to 4,000 steps) most days of the week. And nearly 28 percent are inactive. Another 46 percent get inadequate amounts of activity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Moving a little more and eating a little less can help, public health officials say.

And McDonald's marketers agree. Its $5 Get Active meal, which includes a meal-sized salad with chicken or beef, bottled water, a pedometer and an exercise booklet, is being test marketed in Indiana. If all goes well, the meal will be offered nationwide in 2004, says company spokeswoman Bridget Coffing.

There's no connection between the new Go Active meal and the obesity lawsuit filed against McDonald's that was dismissed recently, Coffing says, citing a "rich tradition" by the company of sponsoring community programs that encourage activity.

Research suggests the devices do help people get active.

In one study, researchers evaluated nine overweight people with type 2 diabetes who were sedentary and then were given pedometers. They increased their walking, with the average walk time rising to 34.3 minutes daily. They kept it up even two months after the study, although their total walk time dropped to 22.6 minutes a day. That research appeared in the May 2002 issue of Patient Education and Counseling.

David Bassett Jr., a researcher at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, also believes in the value of the devices. "You can put them on and easily get feedback about how active you are," he says. They work best, he says, "for people at the lower end of the activity spectrum."

Response to America on the Move has been great since the launch, Artman says. Besides the hundreds of information requests, Indiana has launched Indiana on the Move, a program similar to Colorado on the Move, the pilot program that sparked the national effort.

Pedometers are readily available for as little as $20 or less, although some models cost more, either at sporting goods stores or online from organizations such as America on the Move. Bassett and his colleagues recently evaluated 10 pedometers and found they are less accurate at slower walking speeds.

Of the 10 devices tested, they found the Yamax Digiwalker SW-701 the most accurate at calculating steps, distance and calories burned. The runner-up was the Walk4Life LS 2525.

More information

Click here for more on the America on the Move campaign. To learn how to make time for exercise, try the American Council on Exercise.

SOURCES: David Bassett Jr., Ph.D., professor, health and exercise science, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Wendy Artman, spokeswoman, America on the Move, Boston; Bridget Coffing, spokeswoman, McDonald's Corp., Oak Brook, Ill.
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