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America Falls Short on 4 Characteristics of Healthy Living


If you’re achieving all four characteristics of a healthy lifestyle, you’re in the minority.

A new study shows that only 2.7 percent of the population meets the four general barometers that define healthy behavior. These include a good diet, moderate exercise, a recommended percentage of body fat and being a non-smoker.

The results are based on a large study group, 4,745 people from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. And it didn’t just rely on self-reported information.

The participants wore accelerometers so researchers could measure their actual level of movement. Blood samples showed if a person was a non-smoker. Sophisticated X-ray absorptiometry was used to measure body fat. And a healthy diet was defined by the top 40 percent of people eating foods recommended by the USDA.

Then, the researchers compared these characteristics with biomarkers of cardiovascular health, including blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. More in-depth markers, such as C-reactive protein, fasting triglycerides and homocysteine were also measured.

Here’s what the study authors learned:

  • Having three or four healthy behaviors, compared to none, was associated with better cardiovascular risk biomarkers, including lower cholesterol and homocysteine levels.
  • Having one or two healthy lifestyle characteristics was also associated with better levels of some cardiovascular risk biomarkers.
  • A normal percentage of body fat had the strongest link to healthy levels of HDL and total cholesterol.
  • A meager 2.7 percent of adults had all four healthy lifestyle characteristics. Sixteen percent had three, 37 percent had two, 34 percent had one, and 11 percent had none.
  • Women were more likely to not smoke and eat a healthy diet, but less likely to be sufficiently active.
  • Mexican American adults were more likely to eat a healthy diet than non-Hispanic white or black adults.
  • Adults 60 years and older had fewer healthy characteristics than adults ages 20-39. At the same time, they were more likely to eat a healthy diet and be non-smokers. On the other hand, they were less likely to be sufficiently active.

From the perspective of public health, the findings of the research were not encouraging, notes Ellen Smit, senior author of the study.

“This is pretty low, to have so few people maintaining what we would consider a healthy lifestyle,” Smit said. “This is sort of mind boggling. There’s clearly a lot of room for improvement.”


SOURCE: U.S. adults get failing grade in healthy lifestyle behavior. News Release. Oregon State University. Mar 2016.


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