‘Mind boggling’: Study shows less than 3% of Americans have ‘healthy lifestyle’

© Rick Wilking
The lifestyle of more than 97 percent of Americans cannot be considered “healthy” according to a new study that examined people’s diets, exercise, body fat, as well as whether they smoked. Researchers also found trends based on age, gender, and ethnicity.

A study conducted by Oregon State University in partnership with the University of Mississippi and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga looked at 4,745 people included in National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2003 to 2006, and found that only 2.7 percent met a four-part criteria for having a healthy lifestyle.

“This is pretty low, to have so few people maintaining what we would consider a healthy lifestyle,” Ellen Smit, an Oregon State associate professor of public health and human sciences and co-author, said in a statement. “This is sort of mind boggling. There’s clearly a lot of room for improvement.”

The study, published in Mayo Clinical Proceedings, verified the extent of people’s exercise habits and physical characteristics using technology rather than survey questionnaires. An accelerometer similar to a fitness watch was used to calculate movement, and blood samples determined whether a person smoked or not. Body fat wasn’t measured by height and weight, but instead with advanced dual-energy X-rays. If a person was in the top 40 percent of the population in terms of eating USDA-recommended food, they were considered to have a healthy diet.

To be fully healthy, a person would have to engage in regular exercise at least 150 minutes per week, have normal body fat, eat well, and not smoke. Over 97 percent of Americans failed to meet all of these standards, but nearly 90 percent met at least one of the four.

Researchers found that only 16 percent of Americans had good enough health to claim to be in three of the four categories, while 37 percent could only meet the criteria for two, and 34 percent could only fulfill the requirements for one of the categories. Just eleven percent were so unhealthy that they didn’t pass any of the four benchmarks.

While smokers made up 29 percent of the sampling, 54 percent of those studied didn’t exercise enough, 62 percent were unhealthy eaters, and 90 percent carried too much body fat.

Other findings revealed that men were more likely to smoke and eat poorly, but were also more likely than women to get enough exercise. As for ethnicity, Mexican-Americans had better eating habits than non-Hispanic whites and blacks. It may not be surprising to learn that people over 60 years old were generally less healthy than those aged 20-39, but the older crowd did, in fact, show healthier habits when it came to what they consumed, eating better and smoking less than the younger crowd.

The four categories are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other medical conditions, the study’s authors explained.

“Although multiple healthy lifestyle characteristics are important, specific health characteristics may be more important for particular cardiovascular disease risk factors,” the study concluded.