Only 3% of US citizens follow good health adviceBMJ 2005; 330 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7499.1044-a (Published 05 May 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:1044
Americans hear four good health rules: don't smoke, maintain a normal weight, eat fruit and vegetables, and get some exercise. But almost nobody follows them.
A study of national data has shown that only 3% of Americans followed all four of the recommended rules. Women, older people, white people, better educated people, people in good health, and wealthier people did a little bit better in following the rules. Younger people were slightly better at maintaining a body mass index of 25 or less (Archives of Internal Medicine 2005;165:854-7).
“The effect of a healthy lifestyle is huge. We could eliminate the vast majority of chronic disease by following a healthy lifestyle,” said Matthew Reeves, lead author of the study and an epidemiologist at Michigan State University. Dr Reeves said that doctors could use his study to help patients change their habits by asking, “Are you one of the 3%?” Then doctors could guide patients in simple ways to incorporate 10 more minutes of exercise three times a day into their schedule or to include a few more fruits and vegetables in their meals.
Dr Reeves used data collected annually from the behavioural risk factor surveillance system sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which, for many years, has surveyed people annually in all US states. His study was based on information collected from more than 153<thin>000 adults in the year 2000.
People were asked and graded yes or no on four counts: whether they smoked, maintained a healthy weight (body mass index of 25 or less), ate five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and took regular exercise (30 minutes or more of moderate to intense activity).
A previous study of nurses' health habits had shown that people who followed health guidelines had a much lower risk of death from diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “I thought the number who followed healthy guidelines would be 15 or 20%,” Dr Reeves told the BMJ. He was astonished to find that it was only 3%—even lower in some groups and as high as 5% in others.
The good news was that 76% of those surveyed were non-smokers. But only 40% had a healthy weight, only 23% ate five fruits and vegetables a day, and only 22% engaged in regular physical activity.
“The effect of following these lifestyles is greater than anything else medicine has to offer. I don't know anything a doctors' office can do that would reduce your risk of diabetes or cardiovascular disease by 80% to 90%,” said Dr Reeves.