We live in a wind tunnel of bad news. Day after day it slowly erodes your soul over time and numbs you to the daily onrush of awful.
And I know it's not fashionable to talk about positive things, so with apologies in advance, and despite our daily barrage of political and social crazy, I'd like to show why there actually is good news (for our culture of health anyway) that definitely needs to be shared.
Despite our 50+ year slide into declining health, inclining obesity rates, childhood diabetes, and the confusing array of health advice that changes by the year, there is reason to hope. It seems that our culture’s unhealthy trajectory has paused.
1) Food Choices
Foods appear on the grocery store shelves because consumers purchase them. The tiers of Day-Glo breakfast cereals with the shelf life of steel belted radials wouldn’t be there if we didn’t purchase them. In other words, what is supplied reflects our demand.
But recently, many food companies have removed (or pledged to remove) artificial ingredients from even iconic food brands. Kraft pulled Yellow #6 from its Macaroni and Cheese. Chipotle is taking the preservatives from its tortillas. Pizza Hut and Taco Bell are removing artificial ingredients from its foods along with High Fructose Corn syrup and palm oil. And Campbell’s soups will stop using artificial ingredients and syrups in their products by next year.
It’s no surprise that food companies make these changes because they’re only interested in what increases profits which, in turn, is driven by what we purchase. But that is in fact the good news. We are purchasing healthier items, and therefore seeing those choices reflected in the product offerings of our producers.
This healthy change in our food preferences is not only reflected in the grocery store, but also at the Farmers Market. The number of Farmers Markets as well as the purchasing done there are both increasing as we start to choose healthier items (USDA graphic reference). By contrast, soda consumption has declined for 11 straight years.
This is all very good news.
2) Activity Rates
Over the same time that we’ve been eating better, we’ve also become more active. Overall, participation in sports, fitness, and related physical activities did not decrease last year. In fact, it actually increased slightly. Both casual and active participation have increased, showing that although Americans may not be as active as in the past, they continue to keep moving at some level of fitness.
Conversely, the number of Americans who are inactive dropped in 2015, from 82.7 million to 81.6 million over the prior year. While these rates have fluctuated over the last five years, the 2014 to 2015 decrease (0.6%) is the largest drop since 2010.
This showed that 1.2 million people who were inactive in 2014, participated in a some sort of fitness activity in 2015.
This is very encouraging.
3) Healthy Living
Our workaholic culture is a driver of stress and the stress-related health problems that follow. We are urged to burn the candle at both ends just to make those ends meet. However, this seems to be changing as well. The Labor Department time use survey showed that Americans are starting to work less and sleep more.
Even though the unemployment rate dropped in 2015 from 5.7 to 5.0 (reaching what economists call “full employment”), leisure time on activities like watching television, socializing and exercise is still five minutes more than a decade earlier.
Those with jobs got more shut eye, sleeping 8 hours and 52 minutes on average, which is up seven minutes from the year before. Overall, Americans now sleep an average of 13 more minutes than they did 10 years ago.
Taking care of ourselves in this way is just good news.
The fact that we don’t make our own food in our own home has been much talked about, and for good reason. This article reports on this trend showing that Americans cooked at home less and less from 1984 until 2008. However, it goes on to show that after this time, the level planes out. In fact, the number of people eating home cooked meals has remained at or above where it was in 2008.
When more people cook from home, they eat food that is on average healthier. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t matter whether that food is from a fast food or sit-down restaurant. Either way, this recent study found that you will consume almost 200 calories more, more fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and especially sodium.
When more people make more food more often from their own homes, this is very good news for our health.
In other good health news, smoking has plummeted, falling each year from 42.4 percent in 1965 to 16.8 percent in 2014. Obesity Rates have finally seemed to stabilize for adults and children. And the percentage of Americans with diabetes actually decreased in the most recent CDC report.
The Bottom Line
A number of markers indicate that the culture of health is improving. Is it perfect? No. Do we have more work to do? Of course we do.
But the trend is definitely moving in the right direction. We do need to continue the conversation that encourages eating real food, eating that in control, getting daily activity, and controlling the daily stressors of our lives.
If we can continue doing these things, we can expect this pause in our health freefall to then reverse. And that would be good news indeed.
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