Washingtonians are among the "most sedentary" men and women in the nation. They sit too much and exercise too little, according to a new survey. Virginians don't do much better, while Marylanders remain a mystery since they have not yet participated in the study.
As you might expect, then, Washingtonians and Virginians are among the nation's fatter citizens.
Many are also heavy cigarette smokers. A lot of Washingtonians--nearly 10 percent--are also chronic heavy drinkers, by their own report, and Virginians are not far behind.
Six Washingtonians in 100 report that they have uncontrolled high blood pressure, which often goes along with excess weight, compared with just 2.6 in Virginia.
These dismal facts and figures come from surveys of "behavioral risk factors"--unhealthy behaviors--conducted by health departments in the District and 13 states (Virginia, Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia) and published by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Between 400 and 500 residents in each of the states were surveyed in scientifically selected random samples. The surveys, all made in 1982, cover eight conditions or habits that have been associated in one way or another with eight of the country's 10 leading causes of premature death.
The eight conditions or habits are sedentary life style, obesity, cigarette smoking, uncontrolled hypertension, acute or occasional heavy drinking, chronic or regular heavy drinking, drinking and driving and failure to use seat belts.
Among the 10 leading causes of death--heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, arteriosclerosis, suicide and chronic lung disease--only influenza-pneumonia and juvenile-onset diabetes (the most serious kind) lack some obvious behavioral link in some, or many, cases.
Lack of exercise promotes obesity, which can trigger both diabetes and hypertension. Cigarette smoking causes both lung and heart disease. Drinking causes accidents.
Washingtonians and Virginians are, of course, not the nation's only laggards in leading the healthy life. And the worst habits are often reported by only small percentages of any state's residents.
But "what these surveys are telling us is that every state has significant levels of some unhealthy behaviors," practices that lead to injury, illness and premature death, said Dennis Tolsma, acting director of CDC's Center for Health Promotion and Education.
For example, 17.4 percent of District residents reported sedentary lives, a figure matched only in New Jersey.
Washingtonians came out well in some respects. Fifty-eight percent said they use seat belts, more than those in any state. Only 2 percent said they had driven after drinking too much some time in the last month.
Nationally, between 30 and 65 percent of young adult men (ages 18 to 34) admitted drinking heavily at least once in the previous month. And 29 percent said they had driven after drinking.
Between a third and a fourth of all adults said they still smoke cigarettes, though smoking has declined in recent years.
Men are more likely than women to have a sedentary lives, and sedentary living increases with age. Obesity is most common in the middle ages--35 to 54--and is reported by somewhat more women than men.
Failure to use seat belts was common for both sexes and all ages.
"But many of the figures show some striking differences between states," Tolsma said.
The differences indicate that improvements are possible. Collecting the facts, said Tolsma, should help each state and the District concentrate its limited resources on its most common problems.