NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 11, 2009

Several indicators of healthy lifestyles among U.S. residents have declined in the past 20 years, according to a study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Medicine.  The study compared results from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey conducted from 2001 to 2006 with results from the same survey conducted from 1988 to 1994.  The study focused on the more than 7,000 participants ages 40 to 74 who participated in the two surveys because they are at the greatest risk for heart disease.

According to the survey:

  • The percentage of U.S. residents who eat five fruits and vegetables a day has decreased from 45 percent to 26 percent.
  • Those who drink alcohol moderately -- one drink daily for women or two for men -- increased from 40 percent to 51 percent, while the number who do not imbibe at all declined from 51 percent to 40 percent.
  • The rate of smoking fell only slightly, from 27 percent to 26 percent.
  • The rate of obesity rose from 28 percent to 36 percent.
  • The percentage of U.S. residents who said they exercise at least 30 minutes three times a week declined from slightly more than 50 percent to 43 percent.

Dana King, a professor of family medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, noted that people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol were no more likely than others to have healthy habits.  King added that the increase in unhealthy habits could boost the rate of heart disease and other chronic illnesses affecting the elderly.  However, he noted that studies show that people who improve their lifestyles can reduce their risk for heart disease and death by 35 percent in only four years.

The study did not address the underlying causes of these personal health trends, but experts suggest that longer commutes and more time spent using computers have made people's lives more sedentary.

Source: Roni Caryn Rabin, "Bad Habits Asserting Themselves," New York Times, June 8, 2009; based upon: Dana E. King et al., "Adherence to Healthy Lifestyle Habits in U.S. Adults, 1988-2006, American Journal of Medicine, Vol. 122, Issue 6, June 2009.


Browse more articles on Health Issues