Diet and exercise – two things we think of as a foundation for healthy living. Just consider the findings of a recently published report in the International Journal of Epidemiology. As if any more proof were needed, it makes a clear connection between eating more of certain fruits and vegetables and living longer. According to a Meta study conducted by Imperial College London, it’s estimated that if people ate 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day, an estimated 7.8 million premature global deaths could be avoided each year. For the study, a portion was characterized as 800 grams (for context, consider that one medium apple constitutes around 182 grams).
Those who consume up to 10 portions fruits and vegetables a day are said to be rewarded with a 24 percent lower risk of heart disease, a 33 percent lower risk of stroke, a 28 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13 percent lower risk of cancer and a 31 percent lower risk of dying early when compared to not eating fruit or vegetables.
In another new and separate study, it was further demonstrated that exercise is one of the most powerful things a person can do to protect their heart. A report in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology further confirmed what doctors have long known. Being overweight and obese is associated with a higher risk of heart problems. Of those involved in this 15 year study, participants who were heavier had the highest rates of heart disease. Yet when they looked at overweight and obese people who also exercised regularly, they found that their heart disease rates were similar to those of normal weight people who also exercised. Exercise, in effect, canceled out the negative effects of weight when it came to heart disease.
In today’s world where we are bombarded with a constant stream of nutritional and exercise advice, new health studies and sensational headlines, important facts don’t always prevail. And even the right facts alone don’t seem to change behavior. We know people do not exercise like they should. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 percent of adult Americans do not get the recommended amount of exercise each week. And how realistic is it to ask people to eat up to 10 portions of produce when fewer than 18 percent of Americans eat the much smaller recommended amount of fruit and less than 14 percent eat the recommended amount of vegetables?
The above study findings about what we can do to improve our health are also being quickly swallowed up by competing new data; and it’s not at all encouraging news. According to a study published this month in the journal JAMA, although the percentage of American adults who are overweight or obese keeps climbing upward, the percentage of Americans who are attempting to shed their excess pounds is dropping. According to the findings, while the prevalence of adults in the United States who were overweight or obese rose from 53 percent in 1988 to 66 percent in 2014, the prevalence of overweight individuals who reported that they had tried to lose weight in the past year fell from 56 percent in 1988 to 49 percent in 2014.
Today, more than a third of American adults are obese. Being overweight or obese is becoming the norm. Researchers believe this normalization of weight issues is causing both acceptance (or resignation) as well as interference with the message that higher rates of being overweight and obese are linked to a greater risk of health issues: heart disease, diabetes and cancer to name a few. Not doing anything about it could be detrimental to health. If nothing else, these perceptions are making the problem seem less urgent than it actually is.
“Diabetes follows obesity as a night follows a day,” says Dr. Jian Zhang of Georgia Southern University, the author of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology report.
On the positive side, at least we’re seeing less consumption of sugary drinks, a habit that has long been linked to obesity in children and adults. It also been shown to contribute to heart disease, type II diabetes and some obesity-related cancers, all of which have reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Except we’re now being informed that’s not the case either. A new analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that rates of drinking sugary beverages have recently stalled out at well above the recommended limit.
“If you extrapolate our findings out, that means 111 million adults and 47 million kids still drink at least some sugar-sweetened beverage daily,” Asher Rosinger, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the lead author of the research recently explained to the Washington Post.
This follows nearly a decade of declining consumption. The agency found that adults and children are both consuming roughly the same number of calories from soda, sports drinks and other sugary beverages now as they did in 2009-2010, the last time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published comparable data.
Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, believes that sugary drink consumption may actually spike upward yet again as Generations X and Y age into their 60s. “That is really worrisome,” he says.
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