That’s a shocking claim from my soon to be published book, Health in Flames. Let me explain. According to a 2016 study by the Mayo Clinic only 2.7% of American adults met well established standards for healthy living. This study looked at four factors:
- normal weight
- healthy diet
Let explore how the researchers arrived at this number.
According to the study, 38.5% of Americans adults surveyed followed a healthy diet (measured by the Healthy Eating Index score). This is almost certainly an overestimate. According to the CDC, fewer than 10% of Americans consume the recommended 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Even that figure only accounts for fruit and vegetable intake. That does not account for other important measures of healthy eating such as limiting processed food like sweets and fried foods. Nonetheless, let’s accept the higher figure for now.
The researchers also estimate that 46.5% of people get enough exercise. But according to the CDC, using another more comprehensive measure of adequate exercise (measured by those who get the prescribed amount of aerobic and anaerobic exercise) only 22.9% of Americans get adequate exercise. Again, let’s accept the higher figure cited by the researchers.
The researchers did something smart here in looking at a broader measure of proper weight than body mass index. They defined weight in terms of body fat percentage. For men, the normal body fat percentage is below 20% and for women it is below 30%. In total, they found only 9.7% of Americans meet the definition of normal weight.
Fortunately, smoking is trending downward over time thanks in part to better education and stronger regulations against tobacco advertising. In total 70.5% of Americans do not smoke. The researchers looked at data from 2003 to 2006 and without doubt a more updated study would probably increase that percentage of non-smokers based on the trends.
It’s also important to keep in perspective other factors overlooked in this study. Among the generally accepted pillars of healthy living – most doctors and nurses would tell you that in addition to the above four factors a healthy lifestyle should include proper sleep and avoiding excessive alcohol intake. Referring once again to CDC data, about 1/3 of us do not get adequate sleep.
Estimates of excessive drinking vary based on how it is measured, but according to the CDC, one in six US adults binge drink about four times a month.
Summing it Up
As mentioned above, when the Mayo researchers how many people met all of the four target goals, only 2.7% of American adults did so. If you were to then look at sleep and alcohol use, you’ll no doubt come to find that in all likelihood only about 1% of Americans live a healthy lifestyle (we ought to adjust for fewer smokers but we ought to also adjust for the more accurate percentages who exercise and consume a healthy diet). What that tells us is that something has gone very wrong with our modern way of living. This is the dilemma I spell out in the book and there is a simple and wonderfully more satisfying lifestyle that I present as a solution for resolving the predicament we find ourselves facing.