- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2005

Only 3 percent of American adults have a healthy lifestyle, as defined by their compliance with four behaviors considered important in reducing chronic disease risk, a new study finds.

Using national polling data, Michigan State University researchers determined that “just 3 percent” of adults “followed a combination of four modifiable lifestyle characteristics” — not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating enough fruits and vegetables, and getting regular physical activity.

“These results indicate the extraordinarily low prevalence of healthy lifestyles in the U.S. adult population,” the researchers said in their report, published in yesterday’s issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Lead author Mathew J. Reeves said the new information confirms the Nurses’ Health Study, which tracked about 85,000 nurses for 16 years beginning in the 1970s. “That study found that only 3.4 percent of nurses had this [same] constellation of characteristics” that qualified them as having healthy lifestyles.

“People have often debated how representative nurses are of the general population, but, in this case, they were. And there have been other studies, too, that have found the prevalence [of a healthy lifestyle in America] to be between 3 and 8 percent.”



For the study, Mr. Reeves and colleague Ann P. Rafferty used national data for 2000 from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual telephone survey of households in all states and the District. The data came from nearly 154,000 adults ages 18 to 74.

Specifically, the researchers were looking for Americans who, in addition to not smoking, eat five or more fruits or vegetables daily, engage in 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week, and who have “healthy” weight, meaning a body-mass index of 18.5 to 25.

They found the prevalence of the four healthy lifestyle characteristics (HLCs) to be as follows: Nonsmoking, 76 percent; healthy weight, 40.1 percent; consumption of five fruits and vegetables daily, 23 percent; and getting regular physical activity, 22.2 percent.

Mr. Reeves said the apparent unpopularity of regular exercise and eating five fruits and vegetables, coupled with the fact that nearly 60 percent of adults are either overweight or obese, “really started dragging the figures down.”

As for the 3 percent of adults who exhibited all four HLCs, there was little variation among subgroups classified by variables such as age, income and education.

“It was extraordinarily difficult for people to meet all four, even three HCLs. But all these factors should be attainable,” Mr. Reeves said.

Addressing particular issues, he said he is not sure why more Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables, given the voluminous research showing it’s “one of the best ways to reduce heart disease and cancer risks.”

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