Despite All Their Imprudent Habits, Americans Feel Remarkably Healthy

Americans are a wonder of nature. They eat too much; they exercise too little. And yet, they feel fine! In a survey commissioned by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and fielded by Zogby International, adults were asked to rate their health on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). Just 4 percent scored their health a 1, while 37 percent gave it a 5 and 37 percent rated it a 4. (Among the rest, 4 percent gave it a 2 and 18 percent gave it a 3.) Asked whether their health is changing, if at all, people were more likely to say it’s “improving” (26 percent) than “deteriorating” (19 percent). Two percent think they won’t live to see age 60, but more than half think they’ll make it to 100 (9 percent), their 90s (18 percent) or their 80s (42 percent).

Notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary, most people think they’re prudent about diet. Fifteen percent said they’re careful about what they eat “all the time” and 54 percent said they are “most of the time.” Just a handful answered “never” (2 percent) or “rarely” (3 percent). Of course, people have their own notions of what constitutes sensible eating. When the poll asked, “How do you eat healthy?,” 54 percent said they do so “by eating whatever I like, which includes a healthy balance of foods that I think is best for my body.” Sixteen percent do so “by eating whatever I like, but not overeating after I feel full.” Just 12 percent said they follow the government’s Food Pyramid “or more recent dietary recommendations from government organizations,” while 8 percent follow commercial diet plans and 4 percent hew to “a strict, physician-assigned diet.” Despite the buzz about low-carb diets, when people were asked to identify the element they watch most closely when deciding what to eat, fat (15 percent), sugar (14 percent) and fiber (11 percent) won the most mentions. Carbohydrates, protein, trans-fats/hydrogenated oils, sodium and cholesterol were each cited by 10 percent. Americans’ supposed care about diet hasn’t kept them slim: 56 percent of respondents said they weigh too much relative to their height.

If Americans do live to the ripe old ages they expect, their doctors will deserve much of the credit. For one thing, people go to the doctor often. Asked when their most recent doctor visit was, 31 percent said “less than one month ago” and 35 percent said “one month to six months ago.” Just 16 percent said they’d gone more than a year since last seeing a doctor. As for standard diagnostic tests, 22 percent had their blood pressure checked in the past six months; 14 percent got a cholesterol count and 12 percent had their blood sugar measured during that period.