Inactivity Rate Among Low-Income Americans Nears Historic High, Report Finds

Twenty-eight percent of Americans (82.4 million people) are inactive, and the inactivity rate among low-income households is nearing historic levels, according to the “2018 Physical Activity Council Participation Report.”

Forty-two percent of households making an annual income of less than $25,000 are now reported to be inactive, the sixth consecutive year this demographic has experienced an increase in inactivity, according to the report. On the other hand, households with an annual income more than $75,000 continue to experience decreasing inactivity rates.

“Americans in substantial numbers continue to be engaged in a wide variety of sports, fitness and outdoor activities, but trends that suggest financial resources determine activity levels need to be addressed,” said Tom Cove, president and CEO of the Sport & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), one of the members of the Physical Activity Council, which put out the report.

The study highlights the impact physical education has on the lifelong habits of Americans. The research gathered on physical education (PE) programs shows that 78 percent of individuals who had PE in school remain active. As lower-income households are dependent on PE for most of their physical activity, and the inactivity rates in that demographic are consistently increasing, it highlights the importance of including PE in a school curriculum.

Activity levels vary across generations. Generation Z, those born in the 2000s and making up 17 percent of the U.S. population, is the most active. baby boomers, born from 1945 to 1964 and comprising about 25 percent of the population, are the least active.

As capabilities and energy may decrease with age, baby boomers are more involved in fitness sports than in any other category, as they actively acknowledge the importance of their health, according to the report. However, in the past year, inactivity rates among Americans ages 65 and older have increased nearly 2 percent, surpassing 40 percent overall for this age group. This inactivity rate is nearly 10 percent greater than the inactive population just years younger, in the 55-64 age group.

Aside from older Americans, though, almost every generation is becoming more active, according to the report. 

“As our population evolves and ages, it’s exciting to see all age groups in new, fun activities,” said Jolyn de Boer, executive director of the Tennis Industry Association. “Whether it’s stand up paddling, pickleball, indoor golf or cardio tennis, we are seeing real growth and innovation in the ways Americans recreate.”

The annual report measures overall levels of activity and identifies trends in more than 100 sports, fitness and recreation activities. The report also examines spending habits, the effect of physical education and participation interests among non-participants. The report was put out by the Physical Activity Council, which is made up of IHRSA, the National Golf Foundation, the Outdoor Foundation, the Snowsports Industries America, SFIA, the Tennis Industry Association, the United States Tennis Association and USA Football. The research was conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys USA, and the findings are based on an annual online survey of 30,999 Americans age six and older. The full version of the 2018 Participation Report can be found at