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Health Fusion: Vast majority of US adults don't eat right or move enough. And it's making us sick

Only 7 percent of U.S. adults have optimal measures of health. But you can take steps to make your numbers better. In this Health Fusion column, Viv Williams explores a study about our nation's cardiometabolic health status. And she shares her own lifestyle lapses in judgement.

A woman jogs along a park path.
Jogging or even just walking will help you get moving. (Photo courtesy Fotolia / MCT)
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Far be it for me to ever judge anyone about their eating and exercise habits. I have a wicked sweet tooth and have been known to eat sugar-loaded sweet rolls for breakfast, lunch and dinner — all in one day. And on a rainy, lazy weekend afternoon, I have also been known to plop on the couch and binge watch an entire season of a TV show, moving only to hit the pause button and run to the bathroom. Those choices are not good. But I try not to indulge too often.

As a health reporter who is passionate about helping people live better lives, I was stunned by a recent Tufts University study . Researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy with colleagues at Tufts Medical School found that only 7% of U.S. adults have good cardiometabolic health. And they say it's a devastating health crisis that needs to be addressed.

“These numbers are striking," said Megan O'Hearn , a doctoral candidate at the Friedman School and the study’s lead author. "It’s deeply problematic that in the United States, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, fewer than 1 in 15 adults have optimal cardiometabolic health. We need a complete overhaul of our health care system, food system, and built environment, because this is a crisis for everyone, not just one segment of the population.”

The researchers looked at five components of cardiometabolic health: Blood pressure, cholesterol levels, obesity/overweight and presence of cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke, etc.). They found that only 6.8% of adults had optimal levels of all five components.

They also found clear racial disparities. For example, the researchers say that adults who had less education were half as likely to have good cardiometabolic health than those with higher levels of education. And that Mexican Americans had one-third of the high level measures compared to non-Hispanic white adults.

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The thing that really gets me is that all of the five components the researchers studied — blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity/overweight and presence cardiovascular diseases — are issues you can help to prevent and improve. Yes, your genes determine a lot of stuff when it comes to health, and sometimes diseases happen no matter what you do, but lifestyle choices can really make a difference.

An article in the journal Frontiers in Physiology notes that sitting less, moving more and eating a healthy diet can boost your cardiometabolic health (the article proposes that sleep also may need to be put on that list). So why don't we make better food and exercise choices? Is it an education thing or do we simply not want to face the reality about how our choices may really matter?

I think part of is is because making healthy lifestyle choices a habit is hard. So what's the solution? O'hearn says that Tufts is working on it. They're exploring interventions, such as, Food is Medicine programs which focus on using nutrition to prevent and treat disease, making healthy food more affordable and boosting consumer education.

“This is a health crisis we’ve been facing for a while,” O'Hearn said. “Now there’s a growing economic, social and ethical imperative to give this problem significantly more attention than it has been getting.”

If you want to check out this study , it's published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

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