Few Americans engage in health behaviors that prevent chronic disease

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There are five key health behaviors that can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, according to researchers, but little more than 6 percent of Americans adhere to them.

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Researchers found that only 6.3 percent of American adults adhered to all five health behaviors known to lower the risk of chronic disease.

This is the finding of a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recently published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice, and Policy.

According to the CDC, chronic diseases – such as stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease – are among the most common and costly health problems in the United States.

Approximately half of all adults in the United States – around 117 million people – had at least one chronic health condition in 2012, while 1 in 4 adults had two or more.

What is more, in 2010, more than 83 percent of healthcare spending in the United States was for people with at least one chronic health condition, with heart disease and stroke costing $315.4 billion alone.

However, there are a number of health-related behaviors that can lower the risk of such diseases. Dr. Yong Lu, of the Division of Population Health at the CDC, and colleagues set out to investigate the proportion of Americans that adhere to them.

The team analyzed data from the 2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) – a system of telephone surveys that gathers health-related information from residents across all U.S. states.

The data included almost 400,000 adults aged 21 and older, and the team looked at what proportion of these individuals adhered to five health behaviors known to reduce the risk of death from chronic disease.

These five health behaviors are:

  • Not smoking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding alcohol consumption or only drinking in moderation
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Getting a sufficient amount of sleep

Only 6.3 percent of adults engaged in all five key health behaviors

The results of the study did have some good news; they revealed that only 1.4 percent of the adults failed to engage in any of the five health behaviors.

A total of 8.4 percent of the adults engaged in one of the health behaviors, 24.3 percent engaged in two, 35.4 percent engaged in three, and 24.3 percent engaged in four.

However, only 6.3 percent of the adults engaged in all five behaviors, with women, older adults, college graduates, and Asians most likely to report doing so.

Compared with adults living in southern U.S. states, adults who lived in the Pacific and Rocky Mountain states were more likely to adhere to all five health behaviors.

Based on their results, Dr. Lu and colleagues believe there needs to be increased focus on strategies that encourage more Americans to engage in all five health behaviors, which may reduce their risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

The authors add:

“Supporting proven programs and policies to promote all five behaviors in communities, healthcare settings, work sites, and schools can produce population-wide changes, especially among the high-risk groups.”

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