Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 29, 2021

Three percent of Americans live healthy lifestyles

By PAIGE FRANK | April 7, 2016


ebru/cc-by-2.0 62 percent of Americans do not eat a healthy diet and 90 percent have an unhealthy body fat percentage.

If you currently consider yourself healthy, you may need to rethink this conclusion. Statistically, according to a recent study conducted at the Mayo Clinic, only three percent of Americans live a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps this statistic is not surprising given that the average American male body weight falls just below the cutoff for obesity and more than half of the food consumed in America is “ultra processed.”

According to the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980. In 2013, the United States came in last on a list of affluent countries that were ranked in terms of health.

The three percent statistic was just one of the results of the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey recently undertaken by the Mayo Clinic. Overall, a total of 4,745 volunteers participated in the study. To evaluate the study’s participants, the researchers defined a healthy lifestyle as the routine execution of four key behaviors.

The first behavior involved getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise a week. To measure weekly physical activity, the participants wore an accelerometer to track their movements 24 hours a day.

The second behavior was consuming a healthy diet. In order to measure this, participants were asked to keep a 24-hour food diary.

Researchers used the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Eating Index to quantify the health value of participants’ diets. The index assigns point values to various types of foods, enabling researchers to determine the minimum score needed to be considered healthy.

The third behavior consisted of abstinence from cigarettes, and the fourth behavior was a body fat percentage below 20 percent for men and 30 percent for women.

Each of these behaviors is a known contributor to cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death in the U.S. In general, participants who met more of the requirements for a healthy lifestyle were less likely to possess high cholesterol, high white blood cell counts, high blood pressure and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In particular, regular exercise and a low body fat percentage were shown to be the best preventative factors by far.

The Mayo Clinic researchers found the numerical results of the study to be eye-opening. According to the study, 46.5 percent of participants got enough exercise and 37.9 percent ate a healthy diet. Only 9.6 percent had a normal body-fat percentage.

However, not all of the results were quite so appalling. For instance, 71.5 percent of adults were non-smokers, a positive validation of the ever-declining U.S. smoking rate. However, the percent of participants who met all four requirements for a healthy lifestyle was a scant 2.7 percent.

In regards to other findings, the researchers were able to determine correlations between gender, age and certain habits. When it came to meeting activity requirements, men were more likely to be successful. Women, on the other hand, were much better at eating a healthy diet and avoiding smoking. Additionally, older participants had, on average, higher body fat percentages and lower activity levels than younger participants.

What the results of the study ultimately emphasize is just how much Americans are struggling to control their body fat percentages. If the body fat requirement were to be removed, over four times more people would qualify as healthy. What was also made apparent is that neither eating healthy nor exercising are, alone, enough to maintain a healthy body fat percentage. Though Americans may be making an effort to eat healthier foods and visit the gym more often, reducing their body fat percentages remains a sticking point.

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