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Americans not smart when it comes to health

Posted: Sunday, February 29, 2004

ATLANTA Americans still don't seem to get the message. The latest government figures offer more proof that many people are leading unhealthy lifestyles.

The majority of U.S. adults are overweight, nearly one in five are daily smokers, and one in five consumed at least five alcoholic drinks in a day at least once in a year, according to government's national health survey.

''It's almost as if the elements are conspiring against us to lead unhealthy lifestyles,'' said Dr. Dan Blumenthal, chair of community health and preventive medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine.

''We are faced with a constant barrage of advertising on television about fast food. We live in a world where we are encouraged to drive more and walk less and spend more time in front of our televisions.''

The data, for the years 1999-2001, examines the health behavior of 96,000 adults 18 years old and over and is broken down among gender, race, education and income. It is contained in a report released Wednesday by the Cen-ters for Disease Control and Pre-vention in Atlanta and the National Center for Health Statistics outside Washington.

The study found that Asian adults are more likely than other race groups to have healthy behavior in terms of alcohol use, smoking and body weight. Black adults have higher rates of leisure-time physical inactivity and obesity than white adults.

Black men are more likely than white men to be smokers, but among women the reverse is true, the study says.

The study data says adults with higher levels of education and income generally have more favorable health behavior.

The levels in each category have remained about the same since the numbers for earlier years were released. The study started in 1997.

The latest data found that obesity rates are about the same for men and women, with men slightly more likely than women to be smokers, and men more likely than women to be physically active in their leisure time.

Thirty-nine percent of adults don't engage in any physical activity during their leisure time, the data indicated.

''This trend has been happening in the past decade and it looks like this still continues,'' said Frank Hu, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. ''It strikes me that physical inactivity and obesity continue to be the most important public health challenges in this country.''

Among the positives in the report, the data showed that about one in four Americans abstain from drinking, more than 40 percent of smokers attempted to quit in the past year and 40 percent of Americans are in a healthy weight range.

Dr. Joseph Hobbs, chair of the Medical College of Georgia's family medicine department, said what worries him is that the numbers could actually be much higher. He noted that the data was self-reported by the participants.



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