Who’s Living Healthily?

Americans often remark on the disjuncture between this country’s lavish spending on healthcare and its less-than-tip-top levels of health and life expectancy. But a good deal of the supposed mystery is solved when you look at whether people are following the basic rules of a healthy lifestyle. A new Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index report looks at whether people in a number of demographic cohorts are doing so.

One question in the polling (conducted last month) asked respondents, “Did you eat healthy all day yesterday?” Sixty-six percent said they did so, with no gender gap in the answers. Married respondents were more likely than singles to answer affirmatively (68 percent vs. 57 percent, with divorced people falling in between at 64 percent).

The number of people who reported eating the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables on at least three of the previous seven days (including 60 percent of women and 48 percent of men) was significantly lower than the number claiming to have been eating healthy throughout the previous day. Gallup takes note of this “disconnect” and suggests it may mean many Americans are unaware of the experts’ recommendations on fruits and vegetables, and that the definition of eating healthily is “unclear.”

One suspects that many people feel they are following a healthy diet if they avoid egregiously unhealthy fare. That is, their notion of a healthy diet focuses on excluding bad stuff rather than including good stuff. If so, this constitutes an opening for marketers of healthy foods if they can educate consumers on the affirmative aspect of a sound diet.

If Americans do a lackluster job of eating right, they’re weaker still when it comes to getting exercise. Fewer than half the respondents claimed to have exercised for 30 or more minutes on at least two of the previous seven days — 47 percent of the men, 44 percent of the women. Equal proportions of the poll’s 65-plusers and 45-64-year-olds reported getting this much exercise (44 percent each). The figure was a shade higher (at 47 percent) for the 18-44s.

Are single people always working out so they can look svelte on the dating scene? Actually, the proportion of singles getting at least two workouts in the previous seven days (49 percent) wasn’t much higher than the number of marrieds doing so (45 percent).