June 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW2

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MyActivity Pyramid

In 2006, University of Missouri Extension released the MyActivity Pyramid, a new conceptual model (graphic) that parallels the USDA's MyPyramid. The new pyramid is a tool designed to help youth accumulate the necessary amounts and variety of activity. The MyActivity Pyramid is intended for use with youth ages 6-11. The MyActivity Pyramid also attempts to classify activities into four categories: 1) Everyday Activities, 2) Active Aerobics, 3) Flexibility and Strength, and 4) Inactivity. Recommendations for the amounts of each category are given. The MyActivity Pyramid was piloted with over 250 youth ages 6-11 in rural and urban areas throughout Missouri.

Stephen D. Ball
State Fitness Specialist
Assistant Professor of Exercise Physiology

Ellen Schuster
Associate State Specialist FNEP
Curriculum and Staff Training Coordinator

Robin Gammon
Assistant Curriculum and Staff Training Coordinator

Department of Nutritional Sciences
MU Extension
University of Missouri
Columbia, Missouri


Obesity is a major health risk not only for adults but also for children (Freedman, Dietz, Srinivasan, & Berenson, 1999). Over the last three decades, rates of pediatric obesity and overweight children have tripled (Ogden, Flegal, Carroll, & Johnson, 2002). Children classified as overweight (BMI ≥ 95th percentile) are more likely to become obese adults (Serdula et al., 1993) and are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to normal weight children (Freedman et al., 1999). In addition, adult obesity may be more severe when it originates in childhood (Ferraro, Thorpe, & Wilkinson, 2003).

These findings are alarming and call attention to the need for increased obesity research and prevention. Recent research has focused on intervention and weight management strategies for already overweight and obese populations (Donnelly et al., 1996; Epstein, Paluch, Gordy, Saelens, & Ernst, 2000). Prevention efforts, however, might have more long-term cost effectiveness than treating already overweight children (Wang, Yang, Lowry, & Wechsler, 2003). In particular, focusing on the prevention of overweight children may be our best strategy to help prevent future generations of obese adults.

Development and Description

In 2006, a team of specialists (fitness, nutrition, and youth) from the University of Missouri Extension released the MyActivity Pyramid, a new conceptual model (graphic) that parallels the United State Department of Agriculture's (USDA's MyPyramid. Although not the first activity pyramid of its kind, it is the first modeled after the new MyPyramid. USDA's release of MyPyramid in 2005 made obsolete previous "activity pyramids," because they were modeled after the then outdated Food Guide Pyramid. Although the majority of information remains unchanged, there was a need for a new activity pyramid that more closely resembled the new MyPyramid.

The MyActivity Pyramid is a tool designed to help youth, ages 6-11, accumulate the necessary amounts and variety of activity. Just like the USDA's version, steps line the side of the MyActivity Pyramid. The difference being the pyramid is rotated to the right so that the focus is on the step (activity) side of the pyramid. The goal was to allow children to recognize the MyPyramid and MyActivity Pyramid as one in the same, with a twist (literally). The MyActivity Pyramid attempts to classify activities into four categories: 1) Everyday Activities, 2) Active Aerobics, 3) Flexibility and Strength, and 4) Inactivity. Recommendations for the amounts of each category are given. The MyActivity Pyramid depicts youth from communities of color as well as a child with physical disabilities. Girls and boys are pictured engaged in relevant and familiar physical activities.

A prototype of the MyActivity Pyramid was shared with over 150 University of Missouri Extension educators in May 2006. Their feedback helped refine the prototype that was piloted with 272 Missouri youth in a total of five urban and rural settings during June of 2006. The children's comments were used to finalize the MyActivity Pyramid graphic. For example, some of the depicted activities were actually suggested by the pilot group of children.


There are two important aspects of the MyActivity Pyramid that teachers, health educators, and parents should be cognizant of. First, the recommendation to accumulate 60 minutes of activity daily from the first three levels of the pyramid is a minimum recommendation. Although the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), the leading authority on activity guidelines for youth, recommends 60 minutes as a minimum, their guidelines also state that children should strive to accumulate up to several hours of activity each day (Corbin & Pangrazi, 2004). In fact, recent research suggests that most kids accumulate 60 minutes of activity each day (Beighle & Pangrazi, 2006), yet the number of overweight children continue to rise. It is important that we encourage children to go beyond the 60-minute recommendation. The 60-minute recommendation is a minimum and should be the exception.

Second, it is important to note that although some types of activity can easily be classified, other activities cannot. In fact, some activities might fit into more than one level. For example, a child leisurely shooting baskets might best fit into the "Everyday Activities" category, because heart rate and breathing rate are not increased substantially. Conversely, a child playing a full court basketball game might best fit into the "Active Aerobics and Recreational Activities" category.

Attempting to categorize every activity is impractical and not necessary because children need different types of activity to be healthy and fit. No single activity will elicit all of the needed benefits. The different levels of the pyramid offer suggestions on the types and amounts of activity that children should engage in. Educators should not waste undue time attempting to classify every single activity. Rather, they should point out to children that there are different types of activity, each with different benefits.


The MyActivity Pyramid is used by the University of Missouri Extension, as well as in 26 other states. Over 71,000 hard copies of the MyActivity have been directly distributed nationally and internationally. MyActivity Pyramid has been promoted by numerous organizations, including NASPE. This project did not require IRB approval.


Beighle, A., & Pangrazi, R. P. (2006). Measuring physical activity levels: The association between step counts and activity time. Journal of Physical and Health, 1, 1-14.

Corbin, C. B., & Pangrazi, R. P. (2004). Physical activity for children: A statement of guidelines for children ages 5-12. (2nd ed.). Reston, VA: NASPE Publications.

Donnelly, J. E., Jacobsen, D. J., Whatley, J. E., Hill, J. O., Swift, L. L., Cherrington, A., et al. (1996). Nutrition and physical activity program to attenuate obesity and promote physical and metabolic fitness in elementary school children. Obes Res, 4(3), 229-243.

Epstein, L. H., Paluch, R. A., Gordy, C. C., Saelens, B. E., & Ernst, M. M. (2000). Problem solving in the treatment of childhood obesity. J Consult Clin Psychol, 68(4), 717-721.

Ferraro, K. F., Thorpe, R. J., Jr., & Wilkinson, J. A. (2003). The life course of severe obesity: does childhood overweight matter? J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci, 58(2), S110-119.

Freedman, D. S., Dietz, W. H., Srinivasan, S. R., & Berenson, G. S. (1999). The relation of overweight to cardiovascular risk factors among children and adolescents: The Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics, 103(6 Pt 1), 1175-1182.

Ogden, C. L., Flegal, K. M., Carroll, M. D., & Johnson, C. L. (2002). Prevalence and trends in overweight among US children and adolescents, 1999-2000. Jama, 288(14), 1728-1732.

Serdula, M. K., Ivery, D., Coates, R. J., Freedman, D. S., Williamson, D. F., & Byers, T. (1993). Do obese children become obese adults? A review of the literature. Prev Med, 22(2), 167-177.

Wang, L. Y., Yang, Q., Lowry, R., & Wechsler, H. (2003). Economic analysis of a school-based obesity prevention program. Obes Res, 11(11), 1313-1324.