New Report Examines Americans’ Health Behaviors

For Immediate Release: February 25, 2004

Contact: NCHS/CDC Public Affairs, (301) 458-4800


Heath Behaviors of Adults: United States, 1999-2001. Series Report 10, Number 219. 89 pp. (PHS) 2004-1547 [PDF – 4.5 MB]
Companion Tables [PDF – 2.4 MB]

A new analysis of health habits of U.S. adults provides a higher than usual level of detail on four important health-related behaviors – alcohol use, smoking, leisure-time physical activity, and body weight The report – released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics – combines data from three years of the ongoing National Health Interview Survey to examine the health behaviors by age, gender, race and Hispanic ethnicity, education, income level, marital status, geographic region and place of residence.

Highlights of the report include:

  • Alcohol Use – Six in 10 U.S. adults were current drinkers in 1999-2001 and about 1 in 4 were lifetime abstainers. Nearly one-third of adults were classified as light drinkers (3 or fewer drinks per week); and about 5 percent were classified as heavier drinkers (7 or more drinks per week for women; 14 or more for men). About 20 percent of adults had 5 or more drinks per day at least once in the past year.
  • Smoking – About 23 percent of U.S. adults were current smokers (currently smoke every day or some days) in 1999-2001, another 23 percent were former smokers, and over half of U.S. adults had never smoked cigarettes. Among all adults, about 19 percent smoked daily, and daily smokers smoked an average of just under a pack a day. Almost a third of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 16 and more than 80 percent had started by the age of 21. More than 40 percent of smokers attempted to quit smoking in the past year.
  • Leisure-time Physical Activity – Sixty-one percent of adults engaged in at least some leisure-time activity. About one-fourth of adults engaged in light-moderate physical activity and about 1 in 10 engaged in vigorous activity at least five times per week. One in 4 adults engaged in some strengthening activity.
  • Body Weight – About 22 percent of U.S. adults were obese (defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher) during 1999-2001; 35 percent were overweight (defined as a body mass index of 25 but less than 30) but not obese, 40 percent were in a healthy weight range and approximately 2 percent were underweight, based on self-reported height and weight.
  • The survey uses several measures to monitor each of the health-related behaviors. In addition to analyzing differences in these behaviors by many population characteristics, the report compares various population subgroups in terms of healthy and unhealthy behaviors.

In analyzing patterns of health behaviors, the study showed that rates of obesity were about the same for men and women, men were slightly more likely than women to be smokers, and men were more likely than women to be physically active in their leisure time. Younger adults were more likely to be physically active than middle-aged adults and older adults were less likely to be obese than middle-aged adults.

The report noted significant differences by race and Hispanic ethnicity. Asian adults in general were less likely to have unhealthy behaviors in terms of alcohol use, smoking and body weight than other race groups studied. Rates of leisure-time physical inactivity and obesity were higher among black adults than white adults. Black men were more likely than white men to be smokers, but among women the reverse was true. The differences between Hispanic and non-Hispanic adults were particularly noteworthy for women. Hispanic women have low rates of smoking compared to non-Hispanic white women but higher rates of obesity.

Adults with higher levels of education and income generally have more favorable health behaviors in terms of cigarette smoking, leisure-time physical activity and body weight status.

Health behaviors are self-reported by respondents in this large-scale nationwide household interview survey, and therefore some unhealthy behaviors may be underestimates. For more information about the National Health Interview Survey or to view a copy of Health Behaviors of Adults: United States, 1999-2001, visit the CDC/NCHS Web site.