Written by Steven Reinberg

Updated on July 26, 2022

MONDAY, April 25, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Even though everybody seems to know what a healthy lifestyle is, very few actually live it, a new study contends.

Those who don't smoke, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, exercise regularly and maintain a normal weight account for only 3 percent of the adult population in the United States, according to the report in the April 25 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"We looked at national representative data for 2000," said study co-author Mathew J. Reeves, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University. "We wanted to see the proportion of adults that met the definition for a healthy lifestyle."

In their study, Reeves and his colleague Ann P. Rafferty, from the Michigan Department of Community Health, collected data on 153,805 adults from all over the country. The data came from the 2000 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which is an annual survey of the nation's health.

Reeves and Rafferty found that 76 percent of the people surveyed were nonsmokers, 40.1 percent maintained a healthy weight, 23.3 percent said they ate at least five fruits and vegetables daily, and only 22.2 percent said they exercised at least five times a week.

"When we look at the combination of all four factors, we found that only 3 percent of adults meet our criteria of a healthy lifestyle," Reeves said. "This data shows the extraordinarily low level of adults living a healthy lifestyle."

Reeves pointed out that there is substantial data showing the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. "Those who live a healthy lifestyle live longer and have reduced disease risks, including risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. They have reduced medical expenditures and a better quality of life," he said.

The message is not new. "If you want to say, 'How can I best maximize my quality of life, my longevity, reduce my disease risk and reduce medical expenses?'-- you would lead this sort of healthy lifestyle," Reeves said. "Don't smoke, don't be overweight, exercise regularly and eat right -- it's exactly what your grandmother has been telling you for 50 years."

Not leading a healthy lifestyle has taken its toll, Reeves said. "We've got millions of adults in this country leading less than optimal lifestyles, and that's translated into the obesity epidemic, higher risks of chronic diseases," he said.

Reeve's main concern is for the future. "Because of the ability of the medical system to keep people alive longer, we are going to have more and more elderly people who have a lot more co-morbidities that are going to be consuming a lot of health-care dollars. We can't afford the health-care system we have now. What's it going to be like in 30 years?"

One expert thinks it's the job of health professionals to get the message out to people that living a healthy lifestyle is important. "We need to educate people about what is healthy, and how to incorporate it into their daily lives," said Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City.

The problem, according to Heller, is that there is not enough money being spent to get that message out. "The government allots its funds to other places -- not a whole lot into public education and health," she said.

Another point Heller made is that today's culture promotes a sedentary lifestyle. "Our current lifestyle in this country supports sitting around," she said. "Within that lifestyle, you are bombarded by advertisements telling you to eat all this junk food. We have to figure out how to encourage people to buck the lifestyle we have created for ourselves."

Another expert believes that by not living healthy lifestyles, people are denying themselves a better life. "What we in preventive medicine know is that we are squandering disease-fighting opportunities," said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.

"The result is disease and premature death that simply need not occur," Katz said. "Reeves and Rafferty are pointing out how much of the power of preventive medicine is already in our hands. But for the majority of us, [it is] apparently slipping through our fingers."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians can tell you more about staying healthy.

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