Study: 3 percent follow health advice
Researcher 'surprised it was this low'
Tuesday, April 26, 2005 Posted: 4:57 PM EDT (2057 GMT)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Only 3 percent of Americans follow health advice to keep the weight off, exercise regularly, eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day and avoid smoking, according to a report issued Monday.
Many studies show that people who eat healthily, exercise and do not smoke are far less likely to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic and deadly conditions.
Yet Americans find it almost impossible to take these steps, Mathew Reeves of Michigan State University and colleagues found.
"I was surprised it was this low," Reeves said in a telephone interview.
Writing in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Reeves and colleagues said they looked at surveys filled out by 153,000 adults as part of the U.S. government's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 2000.
Some 76 percent of those surveyed said they did not smoke. But just 23 percent included at least five fruits and vegetables in their daily diets, 22 percent exercised at least 30 minutes per day five or more times a week, and 40 percent maintained a healthy weight defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or less.
And only 3 percent met all four goals, Reeves found. He checked other studies to be sure he was right, and then did an informal poll of people he knew.
"They all kind of roll their eyes and go, 'Nobody does that'," Reeves said. "This is the problem -- the social or cultural norm is not to do that, and it seems like an acceptable situation.
"We need to do much more societally and in terms of government in making an environment where it is a lot easier to do this. Let's start thinking about how we construct our neighborhoods and our cities. Let's start thinking about the way we work and the long commutes and working 40 hours a week."
New food triangle
The federal government is trying to make some moves. Last week the U.S. Agriculture Department replaced its familiar "food pyramid" with a food triangle that emphasizes exercise with a figure climbing up stairs. The Internet-based advisory also tries to tailor nutritional advice to the individual.
But critics complain the Web site is difficult to navigate.
"The people that need it most are probably the ones who are the least likely to use a computer," said Alice Lichtenstein, a nutrition specialist at Tufts University in Boston.
"What we really don't know is how best to communicate information about diet and lifestyle to people. What we are doing doesn't seem to be working for the people who need it most," added Lichtenstein, who has advised the USDA's Dietary Guidelines committee in the past.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tried to warn of the consequences of poor eating and a lack of exercise, but has been hampered by debate over mortality statistics.
Estimates on how many people die from being obese or overweight, for example, range from 25,000 a year to 365,000, depending on the statistical method used.
"I think people feel overwhelmed that they have all these healthy choices that they must take, to where they are almost at the point of saying 'I can't do it,"' said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.