Very Few U.S. Adults Practice Top 5 Recommended Health Behaviors

Chalk it up to whatever you want to—human nature, laziness, busyness, feeling overwhelmed, or powerful distractions—but an almost minuscule percentage of U.S. adults perform the five behaviors that medical experts say are the key to good health.
A recent report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on the “Healthy Behavior Adherence: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005-2016,” states that, at best, 6.3 percent of U.S. adults (the reported range is 4.4 percent to 6.3 percent) incorporate those practices in their daily lives. They are:
·         Healthy diet
·         Regular exercise
·         Completely cutting out smoking
·         Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
·         Maintaining a healthy body mass index (a high BMI of 30 is considered borderline obese)

The study’s lead author, Eric M. Hecht, MD, PhD, associate professor in the department of public health sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that the 12-year study tracked the lifestyle habits of 26,194 U.S. adults from ages 20 through 79.

There was a bit of a silver lining in the study. Although only 1 in 16 study participants practiced all five healthful behaviors, a substantially larger percentage, 20.2 percent to 22.8 percent, engaged in four of the five behaviors.

Beyond that, the highest percentage of participation, 45.4 percent to 48.3 percent, involved only two or fewer good behaviors. Overall, the average number of good practices performed by study participants was 2.6.

The study’s questionnaire asked a simple yes/no question about smoking, and more specific questions about alcohol use and exercise. For instance, it asked participants how many drinks they consumed on those days over the past 12 months when they took a drink. (The commonly accepted recommendation for daily alcohol intake is one drink for women and two for men because of men’s generally higher body mass.)

Several questions focused on high-intensity exercise, such as basketball or running, that ramps up heartbeat and respiration for 10 or more continuous minutes, and seemed designed to deliver a broad hint to study participants about the form and goals of their regular exercise.

In light of the current corona virus pandemic, Dr. Hecht said that comorbidities brought on by the failure to follow these practices may have contributed in some part to high fatalities among older people whose immune systems had been compromised by prior poor health practices over the years.

The impending U.S. pandemic of type 2 diabetes—an estimated 90 million U.S. adults are prediabetic—will bring the urgent need for these behaviors to the forefront more forcefully than ever.


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