The numbers are sobering… In a nutshell, two thirds of American adults are eating the wrong foods and are not exercising. Due to socioeconomic constraints, 15% of American households don’t have access to needed food and nutrition.
Highlighting this reality, on January 31st, 2011, the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines are updated every 5 years to reflect the growing understanding of nutritional science and the changing health and socioeconomic conditions of the nation. The 2010 guidelines are the 7th edition, the first edition having been published in 1980 and every 5 years thereafter as mandated by Congress.
The 2010 guidelines come at a time of American health crisis, critical concerns falling into the two broad categories of: a) overweight and obesity, which is of epidemic proportions, affecting approximately 65% the adult population and about 1/3 of children, and b) nutritional deficiency, affecting 15% of households due to their inability to afford food in adequate quantity and quality to meet healthful dietary requirements.
Improper diet – involving the quantity, quality, and the type of food consumed – and physical inactivity are the most important factors contributing to the epidemic of overweight and obesity in American society. The study declares that even in the absence of overweight, poor diet and the lack of physical inactivity are key causes of death and disease in the American population.
Diseases associated with improper diet and lack of exercise include heart and cardiovascular disease including hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and osteoporosis. The disease consequences of undernourishment are not addressed except in the context of the consumption of foods that are low in nutritional value and can contribute to overweight.
While from the study we don’t know the overlap between the overweight and the undernourished, it might be estimated that no more than 30% or so of the American adult population is of both healthy weight and properly nourished. This is not to say that this 30% of the population is “healthy,” but that they are neither overweight or undernourished.
The report recognizes that the problem is systemic and environmental and that for these health challenges to be overcome, a broad approach must be taken to educate and insure access to healthful food choices and physical activity for all Americans. To this end, the common sense recommendations of the guidelines are:
- Consumption of nutrient dense foods, avoiding “empty” calories that promote overweight and do not provide nourishment,
- Balance food intake with physical activity (where physical activity is the only real means that exists to offset caloric intake), and
- Environmental and societal changes to insure that all Americans have access to both nutritious foods and safe physical activity.
Other specific recommendations include reduced intake of salt, sugar, refined grains, and saturated fats – dietary components that when consumed in excess are major contributors to weight gain, disease, or both. Of course, this includes reduced consumption of foods that are rich in these ingredients.
At a time of national health cost crisis, the financial consequence of this diet/exercise “imbalance” is not discussed in the report except to state that, “Such diets are related to many of the most common and costly health problems in the United States, particularly heart disease and its risk factors and type 2 diabetes. Similarly, a sedentary lifestyle increases risk of these diseases. Improved nutrition, appropriate eating behaviors, and increased physical activity have tremendous potential to decrease the prevalence of overweight and obesity, enhance the public’s health, reduce morbidity and premature mortality, and reduce health care costs.”
Note: Federal recommendations on physical activity were updated in 2008 (after 15 years) also with the goal of curbing these prevailing disease conditions and promoting health. Those recommendations specify that adults that are capable should participate in aerobic exercise for 45 minutes every day and perform weight bearing exercise for all muscle groups three times a week. Click here to access the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines For Americans. View Stephen’s BMED Report article on this topic.
Stephen Elliott is a frequent contributor to the BMED Report. Stephen is the principle author of The New Science of Breath and Coherent Breathing: The Definitive Method. He’s an avid researcher in the field of cardiopulmonary functioning, and the inventor of “Valsalva Wave Pro” and “BreatheHeart” – biofeedback instruments that monitor the “Valsalva Wave” in the circulatory system produced during resonant breathing, and its outcome, breathing induced heart rate variability (HRV). (See www.coherence.com and www.valsalvawave.com, respectively).
Downloads / References
2010 Dietary Guidelines For Americans