Health and nutrition have become important topics in recent decades, with physical inactivity and overeating rising sharply. A troubling 2017 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 36.5% of U.S. adults suffer from obesity, driving up medical costs by $147 billion. To address this health crisis, attention should be focused on answering the perennial question: how can we as a society embrace a more healthy and natural lifestyle?
The overarching issue with our current lifestyle revolves around two main trends. Firstly, overeating has led to the daily caloric content of adults to increase since 2003 and secondly, the level of physical activity and recreation by Americans has depreciated.
The 2016 findings by the Pew Center, illustrated above, reveal that Americans daily consumption increased over 400 calories in 40 years, an increase of 22.5%. Below, the graph from the PLOS journal shows a substantial decrease in job-related physical activity levels over 50 years (from 1960 to 2010).
These two trends are born out of a mass-scale lifestyle change in U.S. society. In recent decades, more and more Americans have adopted desk jobs that require little to no physical activity. In the meantime, our access to food, and particularly processed foods has greatly increased.
Thus starts a vicious progression: when we eat more and exercise less, our body stores excess calories as body fat. These short-term behavioral attributes can have negative side effects on the human body that in the long-term lead to many health problems, from type 2 diabetes to heart disease to joint problems.
The solution to poor nutrition and obesity involves reversing the two trends mentioned above. As humans, we have evolved to exercise – particularly short bursts of high intensity running and prolonged low-intensity activity – and to eat to survive. If we want to be healthier while continuing with our low physical-activity jobs, we need to incorporate more exercise in our off-work hours and eat fewer (and more nutritious) calories.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that adults reach between 2.5 and 5 hours/week of aerobic activity, depending on whether it is moderate-intensity or high intensity. In addition, muscle-strengthening exercises are recommended at least twice a week.
In regards to food, HHS recommends we eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy, and proteins. They also provide caloric intake recommendations for individuals depending on age, gender, and physical activity levels.
If we take small steps on a short-term basis, we will see fat loss and healthier lives in the long-term. These small steps can be a couple more nutritious meals a week, or 30 minutes more walking a day.