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Researchers find fewer adhering to healthy lifestyles

Poor lifestyle choices are associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Despite the well-known benefits of physical activity, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, moderate alcohol use and not smoking tobacco, only a small proportion of adults maintain a healthy lifestyle. In fact, the number of those who follow healthy diets and exercise are declining, according to a study by MUSC’s Dana King, M.D., and his colleagues, published in the June  issue of The American Journal of Medicine.
King, a professor of Family Medicine, and other researchers from the Department of Family Medicine compared the results of two large-scale studies of the U.S. population during 1988-1994 and 2001-2006. In the intervening 18 years, the number of people adhering to all five healthy habits has decreased from 15 percent to 8 percent. In addition:

  • the percentage of adults ages 40-74 with a body mass index greater than 30 has increased from 28 percent to 36 percent;
  • physical activity 12 times a month or more has decreased from 53 percent to 43 percent;
  • eating five or more fruits and vegetables a day has decreased from 42 percent to 26 percent;
  • moderate alcohol use has increased from 40 percent to 51 percent.
  • smoking rates have not appreciably changed (26.9 percent to 26.1 percent);

“The potential public health benefits from promoting a healthier lifestyle at all ages, and especially ages 40 to 74 years, are substantial,” King said. “Regular physical activity and a prudent diet can reduce the risk of premature death and disability from a variety of conditions including coronary heart disease, and are strongly related to the incidence of obesity. In the United States, medical costs due to physical inactivity and its consequences are estimated at $76 billion in [year] 2000. Research indicates that individuals are capable of adopting healthy habits in middle age and making an impact on cardiovascular risk.”
Since people with diagnosed health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, or high cholesterol were part of the samples, the researchers sought to determine whether such individuals were adhering to the healthy habits to a greater or lesser degree than people without those conditions; and whether adherence had changed over time. The study also concluded that people with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or risk factors for those conditions, were no more likely to adhere to a healthy lifestyle pattern than people without such risk factors.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of non-institutionalized populations in the United States are conducted regularly by the National Center for Health Statistics. In the King study that was associated with the NHANES, surveyors used data from a sub-sample of the NHANES surveys of 1988-1994 and 2001-2006, adults aged 40-74 years, because this age span is the primary time for initial diagnosis of cardiovascular risk factors and disease. In the NHANES 1988-1994, the number of respondents 40-74 years old was 7,340, representing a weighted sample size of 78.8 million. For NHANES 2001-2006, the number of respondents was 7,811, for a weighted sample size of 65.4 million.


Friday, June 5, 2009

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.