Our National Diet Disaster: The Staggering Cost of Unhealthy Habits on Our Hearts and Economy

In this day and age, statistics are a cold, hard fact we can’t ignore. They reveal that, as a society, we’re eating more refined carbs, consuming more calories, doing less exercise, and reaping the painful consequences: we’re dying of cardiovascular disease. And the price we’re paying in medical bills? An astonishing $800 million a day – that’s more than $570,000 per minute. The bitter truth is that our daily habits are killing us, and something has to give.

A Nation in Poor Health

The American Heart Association measures our cardiovascular health using seven criteria: smoking habits, weight, physical activity levels, diet, cholesterol, blood pressure, and fasting glucose levels. It also takes into account whether you have a history of heart or blood vessel disease. The stark reality is that a shocking 94 percent of US adults score ‘poor’ on at least one category, while 38 percent have three factors that are deemed ‘poor’ for an individual.

Alarmingly, this issue isn’t just affecting adults. Half of US children aged 12 to 19 meet four or fewer of the criteria for optimal cardiovascular health. It’s no surprise, then, that one in three deaths in the US is due to cardiovascular disease.

More Calories, Less Activity: A Recipe for Disaster

When comparing today’s society to the 1970s, it’s evident that our health has taken a nosedive. Women’s daily calorie intake has risen by 22 percent from 1,542 to 1,886 kcal/day, while men’s calorie consumption has increased by 10 percent from 2,450 to 2,693 kcal/day.

Much of this excess intake can be attributed to the consumption of carbohydrates – particularly starches, refined grains, and sugars. The expansion of portion sizes, calorie-packed meals, sugar-infused drinks, snacks, fast food, and other commercially prepared meals are further exacerbating the problem.

Compounding this issue is our increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Did you know that 33 percent of adults don’t engage in any kind of aerobic leisure activity? Furthermore, studies show that in 2009, 29.9 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys in grades nine through 12 failed to partake in 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity – a necessary amount for good health – even once in the previous seven days.

Breaking the Cycle: Adopting Healthier Habits

It’s clear that something has to change. The good news is that by making better daily choices, we could turn this crisis around. Here are some ideas to help break the cycle and get on the path to better health:

· Choose whole foods over processed options: Opt for fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Avoid refined grains and sugars, as well as processed snacks and food items with long lists of ingredients you can’t pronounce.

· Watch portion sizes: Learn how to recognize appropriate portion sizes for each food group. Stick to that guideline to avoid excessive calorie intake.

· Cook at home: Preparing your own meals will help you better control the ingredients used, the cooking method, and the portion sizes.

· Minimize sugar-sweetened beverages: Instead of reaching for sodas, energy drinks, or even fruit juices, choose water, herbal teas, or make your own veggie-packed juices and smoothies.

· Eat mindfully: Slow down when you eat and practice being present at each meal. Savor each bite, and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.

· Get active: Incorporate more movement into your life – aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. Mix in some strength training sessions as well to build and maintain healthy muscle mass.

· Find an exercise buddy: If you’re struggling to stick with an exercise routine, find a friend or family member to join you. You’ll be able to motivate and support each other along the way.

· Prioritize sleep: Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Our bodies repair and regenerate as we rest, and getting quality, consistent sleep is essential for overall health.

If we want to reduce the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, it’s time to take a long, hard look at the way we live. Our habits are slowly but surely killing us – and costing us dearly. It’s time to take action and foster a cultural shift that promotes healthy behaviors. Let’s start today; our lives depend on it.