Shaw: Healthy eating is imperative

Daniel Shaw

Healthy eating plays a crucial role in making sure our bodies are running at peak performance. However, many Americans misunderstand what healthy eating entails.

According to a National Public Radio poll conducted with Truven Health Analytics, 75 percent of Americans believe that their diets are good, very good or excellent.

However, many Americans still struggle with obesity.

In a 2015-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey administered by the National Center for Health Statistics, almost 40 percent of United States adults aged 20 years or older were found to be obese. This is in stark contrast to the 22.5 percent of adults aged 18 years or older who met federal physical activity guidelines in 2016 reported by Healthy People 2020.

The percentage of obese adults in the United States is also larger than the overall percentage of obese people estimated in the world. The World Health Organization estimated in 2016 that 13 percent of the world’s population was obese.

Two possible reasons for this large percentage of adult obesity in the United States include common misconceptions about what the components of a proper diet and healthy foods being perceived as not accessible.

A 2016 survey conducted by the New York Times compared how healthy nutritionists and the general public view different foods. The results revealed how expert and public opinions vary drastically.

For example, 28 percent of nutritionists viewed granola bars as healthy whereas 71 percent of the public viewed granola bars as healthy. Conversely, 89 percent of nutritionists view quinoa as healthy whereas 58 percent of the public viewed quinoa as healthy.

This disparity of knowledge is not helping the high percentage of obesity in the United States. Many Americans do not know what is good for them when it comes to food and that is a problem.

Educating the public on healthy dieting is vital for reducing obesity and improving health in America.

Concerns about the cost of eating healthy also need to be addressed.

The Harvard School of Public Health released a British Medical Journal publication in 2013 titled “Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis,” which revealed that eating a healthier diet was about $1.50 more expensive per day on average. This translates to about $550 more in food costs per year per person.

While this difference in cost between food choices may seem inexpensive to some people, its increased cost could appear off-putting to lower income families who may not see the value of investing in healthier food options, or who simply cannot afford to invest more money in food.

Therefore, the price difference between food options needs to be addressed so that lower income people and higher income people have equal access to healthy food options.

Having access to nutritious food plays a key role in preventing illness. According to Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, “[a]bout half of all American adults — 117 million individuals — have one or more preventable chronic diseases, many of which are related to poor quality eating patterns and physical inactivity.”

Because nutrition plays a huge role in preventable illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, less accessibility to healthier foods for lower income people due to higher costs may contribute to the health disparities among socioeconomic classes.

A 2015 study by the Urban Institute and Center on Society and Health reveals “[p]oor adults are almost five times as likely to report being in fair or poor health.” These lower income American adults specifically have “higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other chronic disorders than wealthier Americans.”

Regardless of income, people should have access to a healthy lifestyle free from preventable illnesses. There are many benefits that coincide with eating healthy and they should not be limited to the wealthy.

Americans need to better understand how to eat healthy and the risks that come with careless eating.