A fun thing about being an American health journalist is constantly reading about how horribly unhealthy your country is. (And subsequently, being reminded about how unhealthy you probably are. And by “you,” I mean me.) The unflattering stats mount: More than half of what Americans eat is “ultra-processed.” The average American man has a body mass index just barely under the medical definition of obese. In a 2013 ranking of affluent countries’ health, the United States came in last.
Here’s another bummer of a statistic to toss on the pile: Less than 3 percent of Americans meet the basic qualifications for a “healthy lifestyle,” according to a new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The study authors defined a “healthy lifestyle” as one that met four qualifications:
- Moderate or vigorous exercise for at least 150 minutes a week
- A diet score in the top 40 percent on the Healthy Eating Index
- A body fat percentage under 20 percent (for men) or 30 percent (for women)
- Not smoking
The researchers looked at data from a representative sample of 4,745 people who participated in the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In this survey, physical activity was measured with an accelerometer that participants wore for a week, and diet was scored based on a 24-hour food diary.