Americans are bombarded with statistics and studies about how healthy we are, almost daily. The news is often depressing as the numbers indicate how unhealthy our lifestyles have become. Even with cutting edge medicine and technology to help us, we seem to consistently make a poor showing. However, with knowledge comes power so a careful look at the numbers could help us improve. As of 2008, less than 3% of Americans qualified as leading a healthy lifestyle.
First of all, we need a working definition of what an actual “healthy lifestyle” is. An author from the Mayo Clinic defined a healthy lifestyle in four requirements:
- At least 150 minutes of vigorous or moderate exercise per week
- A Healthy Eating Index scores at least in the 40% range
- Body fat percentage of 20% or less for men; 30% for women
- No smoking
In a recent study, the United States came in the last place for affluent countries health status. The good news was that smoking had declined steadily in the past ten years, which has significantly improved Americans’ overall health. The numbers also indicated that almost 45% of Americans got in the weekly exercise required. The bad news was the 9.6 % that had the proper body weight proportions and only a little over 2% met all four requirements.
Researchers also had to take into account such things as high blood pressure and cholesterol which affects the population’s health numbers. While men tend to be more active, women are less likely to smoke and eat healthier. These demographics prove that Americans have worked to improve some aspects of their daily health regime. There is much room to improve, though.
The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition published a list of its findings for 2014:
Activity (Physical) :
- Only one out of three children do physical activities on a daily basis
- The number of adults who do 30 minutes of physical activity daily is less than 5%
- Screen time for children is up to 7 hours per day.
- About 80% of our youth and adults do not meet basic activity requirements daily
- There are only about one in five homes with a park nearby
- Americans, as a whole, eat less than the recommended daily allowances for the healthy food groups (vegetables, grains, fruits and dairy)
- There are twice as many fast food restaurants than in 1970.
- 40% of total daily calories are “empty” from sources soda, desserts, fruit drink, pizza and whole milk (for 2-18-year-olds).
- 3,400 grams of sodium are consumed by adults daily (current guideline is 2300 per day)
- Daily average calories have increased by 600 from 1979-2008
- A study from 2009-2010 found that 78 million adults and 12.5 children are considered obese.
- Research projects that one-half of the adults in America will be obese by 2030
- There is a 70% probability that an overweight child will become an obese adult
- The issue of obesity tripled for ages 12-18 from 1970’s to 2008.
- For those children living in poverty, there is almost a double number of those with obesity
The cost for obesity and poor overall health was about $147 billion dollars in 2008. This dismal number shows us that not only are we being hurt physically by the health problems but also financially. The medical system struggles under trying to care for under or noninsured people who fall into the wrong side of the health statistics.
Another concern that we do not think of often is how unhealthy lifestyles could endanger our national security. A staggering 27% of our youth who try to enlist in the armed forces are too obese to serve. Also, about 15,000 recruits also fail their physicals each year. These alarming numbers can reflect on the fitness of our military.
If we focus our energy on public awareness and education, the United States could improve our last place standing internationally. It is the combination of federal, state and local programs that can lift us out of the sad statistics that we see now. We can start with our children and youth by providing healthy physical activities that encourage them to step away from screens and to get moving.
In conclusion, we must acknowledge that we are not a healthy nation. We have made some strides in improvement, but we have a long way to go. The worst thing we can do is stick our heads in the sand and ignore the realities. The numbers and the statistics don’t lie but instead, provide us with a starting point. The solutions are up to us as a society and a nation. Even as we hear these disturbing numbers, we must dedicate ourselves to better things for our children. Any changes for the better, however small, will mean a healthier nation for everyone.