Understanding the relationship between educational level, working status, and physical activity is an important part of creating public health initiatives aimed toward reducing the burden of obesity. A study presented at the American Sociological Association's 109th Annual Meeting on Aug. 19 has revealed that people with a college level degree are more physically active on Saturday and Sunday compared to weekdays, but people without a high school degree are less likely to hit the gym on a weekend.

"Education affects people both at the individual level and at their social level,” Jarron M. Saint Onge, lead researcher and assistant professor of sociology at the University of Kansas, said in a statement. Physical activity is encouraged or discouraged in different groups. You have to be flexible. We have to give people different ideas. We have to have discussions on what works for some and what works for others."

Saint Onge and his colleagues gathered their data using the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Adults in the United States who participated in the NHANES tracked the amount of steps they took each day as well as the intensity of each step by way of an accelerometer. The intensity of each step was used to determine the amount of time spent on sedentary, moderate, or vigorous physical activity. The research team also controled for factors relating to employment, such as income and whether each participant was more likely to sit or stand at work.

While less educated people were more physically active overall, they were also more sedentary on the weekend rather than weekdays, whereas college educated people were more sedentary on weekdays rather than the weekend. People with a college level degree spent an average of 8.72 hours on a sedentary activity during the week compared to 8.12 hours on the weekend. On the other hand, people without a high school degree spent an average of 7.48 hours on a sedentary activity during the week compared to 7.86 hours on the weekend.

"Educational attainment predicts physical activity differently on weekends and weekdays," Saint Onge added. "Importantly, we focus not simply on total time people are engaged in recommended levels of physical activity, but the quality of the activity by focusing on the average levels of activity intensity per minute by day. An understanding of the factors that reduce time spent in low intensity or sedentary behaviors can inform activity intervention measures and could potentially reduce socioeconomic status differences in preventable morbidity and mortality."

While working during the week is the obvious explanation, researchers said the relationship between education and physical activity is more complex. Individuals participating in the study who took more steps during the week, most likely at work, were less physically active on the weekend. Although people with a lower educational level spent more time on laborious physical work during the week, these activities were considered lower energy, repetitive motions that tend to carry unhealthy consequences.

Source: Krueger P, Chapman K, Saint Onge J, et al. Objective Physical Activity Patterns of U.S. Adults by Educational Status. American Sociological Association's 109th Annual Meeting. 2014.