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More Evidence that U.S. Adults Aren't as Healthy as They Should Be

Fewer than 3 percent of men and women maintain four basic barometers of a "healthy lifestyle." Do you?

Of the approximately 322,268,000 men and women living in the U.S., only 2.7 percent of adults live a “healthy lifestyle,” according to new research out of Oregon State University and the University of Mississippi. Let that sink in.

The term “healthy lifestyle” is pretty vague, but researchers broke it down into four basic behavioral characteristics that work toward protecting against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, even cancer. The barometers include: a good diet, moderate exercise, a recommended body fat percentage, and being a non-smoker. 

There’s nothing outrageous here; they’re not looking for the average Joe to run a marathon every week. These are the basic health parameters doctors urge all their patients to reach and maintain. So, yeah, the findings are pretty sad. 

In the study, researchers collected information—both measured and self-reported—from 4,745 people from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. 

An individual consuming a healthy diet was defined as "being in the top 40 percent of people who ate foods recommended by the USDA." (It's unclear from the release exactly what the researchers mean by that.) Measured activity was analyzed with an accelerometer, which determined participants’ actual level of movement. (The goal was to reach 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity a week.) We know what you’re thinking: Measuring BMI based on height and weight is rough at best, completely wrong at worst. That’s why researchers used a pretty complex machine called an X-ray absorptiometry. It measures bone density, body composition, and fat content with a high degree of accuracy. Lastly, blood samples were conducted to verify a person was a non-smoker. 

Participants’ lifestyle characteristics were then compared to "biomarkers" of cardiovascular health, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels.

In all, 38 percent ate a healthy diet, 46 percent were sufficiently active, 10 percent had a normal body fat percentage, and 71 percent didn’t smoke. As we mentioned, just fewer than 3 percent could brag about having all four healthy lifestyle characteristics. Sixteen percent had three characteristics, 37 percent had two, 34 percent had one, and 11 percent had none.

"I would expect that the more healthy lifestyles you have, the better your cardiovascular biomarkers will look," lead author Ellen Smit said in a press release.

And this was true: The researchers found having three or four healthy lifestyles, compared to none, coincided with better cardiovascular risk biomarkers. The same was seen for adults who had at least one or two healthy lifestyle characteristics, compared to none.

Here are some other standout findings from the research:
•    Healthy levels of HDL and total cholesterol were correlated the most with normal body fat percentage.
•    Women were more apt not to smoke and eat a healthy diet, but less likely to be adequately active.
•    Adults 60 years and older had fewer healthy characteristics than adults ages 20-39

But still: "This is pretty low, to have so few people maintaining what we would consider a healthy lifestyle," lead researcher Ellen Smit in the release. "This is sort of mind boggling. There's clearly a lot of room for improvement."

Consider this your wakeup call. For tips on adopting a healthy diet, read: The Anti Quick Fix Diet. For ideas on getting more exercise, see: 10 Ways to Burn 1,000 Calories And Not Even Realize it. Not sure what your body fat percentage is? Check out: 6 Effective Ways to Calculate Your Body Fat Percentage. Struggling to quit smoking? Take a look at: The Five Best Quit-Smoking Apps.



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