(NaturalNews) It is widely known that Americans are unhealthy, but the situation is more dire than previously believed. A recent study found that a mere 2.7 percent of U.S. adults meet the basic criteria of a healthy lifestyle, meaning that the remaining 97.3 percent fail to maintain their health.
Researchers form Oregon State University and the University of Mississippi reached this conclusion by assessing U.S. adults with four barometers that set the minimum standard of healthy living: a good diet, moderate exercise, recommended body fat percentage and not smoking.
These habits are associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and numerous other maladies, including cancer and type 2 diabetes. “The behaviour standards we were measuring for were pretty reasonable, not super high,” lead author of the study, Ellen Smit from Oregon State University, said in a statement. “We weren’t looking for marathon runners,” she added.
Gauging healthy lifestyle habits
With the help of data collected by the 2003–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers found that among 4,745 people, 97.3 percent did not meet the four basic standards of healthy living.
The team used an accelerometer device to gauge whether participants engaged in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. Blood samples verified whether a person was a smoker or non-smoker, while body fat percentage was determined with the use of x-rays.
A healthy diet was recognized as falling within the top 40 percent of individuals who eat foods recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture. This was the only one of the four criteria that was based on self-reports.
The researchers found that approximately 16 percent of participants met three of the criteria, 37 percent met two of the criteria, 34 percent met one of the criteria, and 11 percent met none of the criteria. More specifically, the results discovered that 71 percent of adults were non-smokers, 38 percent maintained a healthy diet, 10 percent had a recommended body fat percentage, and 46 percent got enough physical activity each week.
In terms of gender differences, the team found that women were more likely not to smoke and maintain a healthy diet, but less likely to get enough weekly exercise. In addition, although adults 60 years or older were not as healthy as adults between 20 and 39 years of age, they were more likely to not smoke and maintain a healthy diet, but less likely to get enough weekly exercise.
Among other findings, Mexican American adults tended to maintain a healthier diet than non-Hispanic white or black adults. The tightest correlation was found between healthy levels of HDL cholesterol – the good cholesterol – and participants with a healthy body fat percentage.
A bleak picture of pubic health
The only bit of good news to stem from the report is that not all healthy habits are created equal; some habits have more of an impact on health than others. The authors of the study note that meeting just one or two of the basic criteria of healthy living can improve blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels.
There is consensus among health officials that additional research is needed about how to get more adults to adopt healthier lifestyle habits. Nevertheless, Smith said that the results of the study paint a grim picture of public health. Although the population size was limited to a few thousand adults in the study, these types of surveys are conducted to ascertain the public’s health in general.
“The behavior standards we were measuring for were pretty reasonable,” Smit said in a press release. “We weren’t looking for marathon runners. This is pretty low, to have so few people maintaining what we would consider a healthy lifestyle. This is sort of mind boggling,” she added.