Physical activity and body weight: Associations over ten years in the CARDIA study

K. H. Schmitz, D. R. Jacobs, A. S. Leon, P. J. Schreiner, B. Sternfeld

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BACKGROUND: Hypothesis 1 - sustained changes in physical activity are inversely related to changes in body weight. Hypothesis 2 - those who attenuate weight gain because of a temporary increase in physical activity (PA) may maintain a lower body weight over time. METHODS: Data were from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study, a cohort of black and white men and women, aged 18-30 y at baseline, who attended up to five examinations over a 10 y period (n=5115 at baseline). Longitudinal associations between physical activity and body weight changes were assessed, adjusting for secular trend, age, clinic site, education, smoking, alcohol intake, parity, percentage energy intake from fat, and changes in these variables over time. For hypothesis 1, concurrent associations of physical activity and body weight changes were examined. For hypothesis 2, we explored whether weight gain attenuation associated with increased PA during the initial 2-3 y of follow-up was sustained over 5 y. The study 2 analyses were conducted with three separate 5 y intervals: baseline to year 5 (n=3641), years 2-7 (n=3160), and years 5-10 (n=2617). RESULTS: Hypothesis 1 - change in physical activity was inversely associated with change in body weight within all four race and sex sub-groups (P<0.005). The predicted weight change associated with change in physical activity was four to five times larger in participants who were overweight compared with those who were not were overweight at baseline. Hypothesis 2 - an increase in physical activity during 2-3 y of follow-up was associated with an attenuation of weight gain that was sustained through 5 y of follow-up whether or not the physical activity increase was maintained during the later years. This finding persisted whether the starting point for the 5 y follow-up was year 2, year 5 or baseline (women only). Comparing participants who increased physical activity with those who decreased physical activity in the first 2-3 y of follow-up (eg by at least 2 h per week of stationary cycling for at least 6 months per year), the mean 5 y weight gain attenuation ranged from 0.8 to 2.8 kg. CONCLUSIONS: The results of these analyses support the need for public health messages for promoting increased physical activity for weight maintenance and attenuation of age-related weight gain, especially for higher weight sub-populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1475-1487
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank the participants of the CARDIA Study. The CARDIA Study was funded by NIH contracts NO1-HC-48047 – 48050 from the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Kathryn H Schmitz was supported by a University of Minnesota Graduate School Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship and by NHLBI Training Grant 32-HL07036 while working on this manuscript. Special thanks to Peter and Mack Schmitz.


  • Body weight
  • Exercise


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