The United States of Unhealthy?



By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


How healthy are most Americans?

We are living longer as a society, but we are collectively sicker than ever before.  

America's Health Rankings highlight troubling levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and an increase in sedentary behavior across the board. All the while, we have medical professionals, new medications and experimental drugs that are helping us live longer despite getting sicker.  

Why are we so sick?

One reason is access to healthy food has become quite the challenge for certain parts of the United States. There are portions of our population, mainly those that live in low income neighborhoods, who live in figurative food deserts.

A ‘food desert’ is a term used to describe communities that don’t have direct access to affordable healthy food. Those subject to this lifestyle are forced to rely mainly on convenience stores or fast food chains for their nutrition. And as you can imagine, this negatively impacts the overall health of these communities and keeps them in a perpetual cycle of sickness.

It is extremely difficult for individuals to make healthy choices “if those options are not readily available in the home, at work, at school, and in the community," according to Jill Reedy, Ph.D., MPH, RD, Program Director at the Risk Factor Assessment Branch.

But there is Hope.

As a society, it is important to understand how vital access to healthy food is. We have to work collectively to promote local gardening projects, farmers markets and teach our children the importance of eating fresh, whole fruits and vegetables. Nutrition is a deciding factor of whether we live a long and healthy life, or if we just live a long and sick life.

The Healthy Eating Index (HEI), was originally developed in 1995 as a tool to evaluate and measure the extent to which Americans are following suggested nutritional habits. The HEI uses a scoring system to evaluate different categories of foods. The scores range from 0-100. An ideal HEI score of 100 reflects that the set of foods aligns with key dietary recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

  • A score above 80—a good diet.
  • A score between 51 and 80—a diet that needs improvement.
  • A score less than 51—a poor diet.

Americans averaged about 53.5 points out of 100 points.

From 2015-2020, the DGA has provided guidelines in the attempt to promote healthy eating patterns in Americans. Making shifts in food and beverage choices can have a significant impact on the overall health of an entire population. For example, swapping soda for filtered or alkaline water, or pancakes and syrup for fresh fruit and granola.

In an editorial, Dr. Barbara Millen, PHD and nutritional expert and chairman of the DGA committee, forecasts a bright future for integrating new methods of nutritional risk assessment, such as the HEI-2015, with advanced analytics and innovative web and mobile technologies.

According to Dr. Millen, "The evidence base is stronger than ever before linking the 'total diet' - its dietary patterns, nutrient density, and overall quality—to health promotion and disease prevention across the human life span. The work of these investigators will hopefully inspire other researchers and nutrition professionals to utilize the HEI-2015 broadly and establish other evidence-based innovations that fully embrace the 2015-2020 DGA's five cornerstone guidelines, and advance research and practice in clinical, public health and consumer settings."

With increased access to information and a widespread push for improved nutritional habits across the nation, there is hope that together we can change the dietary future and overall health of our country.

Guidelines to Live By

  • Follow healthy eating patterns. Your food and beverage choices matter. Consume healthy foods at an appropriate calorie level for your body type and gender to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Focus on a variety of whole foods. To meet nutrient needs with calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods. 
  • Meal prep to avoid impulse eating. Having healthy food on hand is a great way to set yourself up for success. 
  • Stick to the outside aisles of the grocery store and focus on a variety of whole foods in a broad spectrum of colors. Avoid boxed or packaged food that are rife with preservatives.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages high in these components.
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.
  • Find a local farmers market and if you have children, take them with you. Establish healthy eating habits in your kids when they are young. It will help them grow up to be healthy and strong.
  • Exercise often. Whether it is a walk around the block each day, stretching, yoga or core training.
  • Drink plenty of water and cut back on sugar drinks like soda and sweet teas. Consuming whole foods in their most natural state, like raw fruits and vegetables, and drinking plenty of water, can help combat hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and even depression. Diet is one of the most glaring contributors to mortality and morbidity in the United States.

Finally, if it’s difficult to determine what nutrients we should be adding to your diets, I suggest taking a nutritional test to pinpoint exactly what nutrients you may be lacking.  

Enjoy your healthy life! 

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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