An overwhelmingly large number of American adults would fail a healthy lifestyle assessment test, a new study found.
The researchers at Oregon State University examined four variables that contribute to a healthy lifestyle and a reduced risk of cardiovascular events. The variables included eating a well-balanced diet, exercising on a moderate level, having a good body fat percentage and not being a smoker.
"The behavior standards we were measuring for were pretty reasonable, not super high," said Ellen Smit, an associate professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences and senior author of the study. "We weren't looking for marathon runners."
After examining these four barometers of health in 4,745 participants taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers found that only 2.7 percent of the adults met all four variables of a healthy lifestyle, which can lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions.
The researchers noted that even having some healthy lifestyle factors as opposed to none was tied to improved health. Sixteen percent of the adults met three factors, 37 percent had two and 11 percent only had one.
"This is pretty low, to have so few people maintaining what we would consider a healthy lifestyle," Smit said. "This is sort of mind boggling. There's clearly a lot of room for improvement."
Overall, 71 percent of adults were not smokers, 38 percent followed a healthy diet, 10 percent had normal, recommended levels of body fat percentage and 46 percent could be considered active. Women and older adults were more likely to be non-smokers who ate a healthy diet and less likely to be sufficiently active.
The researchers stressed the importance of not only educating adults about the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle, but also finding ways to motivate adults to make real changes. Motivation programs can be targeted to different age and gender groups to ensure better results.
Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was considered to be highly reliable since the researchers directly measured the majority of the information. For physical activity levels, the researchers used an accelerometer to track movements. For body fast percentages, the researchers used an X-ray absorptiometry and for smoking status, the researchers used blood test to confirm self-reports. Diets, however, were self-reported.
The study was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.