If quitting smoking is one of your New Year's resolutions, you might want to add one more - maintaining a healthy body weight.
The overall health of the U.S. population has improved over the past three decades, largely because people have quit smoking in droves, but a new study suggests those gains might soon be wiped out if the rising obesity rates among Americans don't level off or drop. Over the past 15 years, smoking rates in the U.S. have fallen by 20 percent, while obesity rates have risen by 48 percent. If those rates continue, obesity will soon cancel out the life-expectancy and quality-of-life benefits gained by declining smoking rates.
On the other hand, the researchers calculated what would happen if everyone in America maintained a normal weight and no one smoked. If these two behavior changes were to occur, Americans would gain nearly four years of life.
Although overall life expectancy is likely to increase, when we look at these two unhealthy behaviors we see the potential that it could have risen this much higher without obesity and smoking. Even small improvements in these risk factors can make a difference.
It's estimated that obesity is responsible for between 5 percent and 15 percent of deaths each year in the United States. Smoking still accounts for about 18 percent of deaths each year. Along with their effect on mortality, obesity and smoking can both have a large impact on quality of life as well.
Researchers project that past trends in obesity and smoking will continue, which means that obesity rates will increase, while smoking rates will drop. The researchers estimate that if current trends continue, nearly half of the U.S. population will be obese by 2020. If smoking continues to decline at past rates and obesity continues to increase at past rates, obesity will win this horse race, and over time, the increasing effects of obesity will outweigh the declines in smoking.
Strategies for healthy eating
Maintain a balance between your calorie intake and calorie expenditure.
Eat a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables, whole grains and fruits.
Keep portions moderate.
Drink more water.
Limit sugary foods, salt and refined-grain products.
Obesity contributes to the development of several chronic diseases, from cardiovascular disease to cancer. In fact, another recent study found that more than 100,000 cancers in the U.S. each year are linked to excess body fat. According to a recent study by the American Institute for Cancer Research, half of all Americans aren't aware of the role obesity plays in cancer risk.
To reduce your risk of being excessively overweight, the American Cancer Society recommends balancing calorie intake with physical activity. Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day and choose whole grains over processed grains. Adults should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity five days a week or more. For tips on healthy eating, visit www.cancer.org/GreatAmericans to learn new ways to incorporate healthy foods into daily meals.
The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than 3 million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. As the nation's largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing about $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, about 11 million people in America who have had cancer, and countless more who have avoided it, will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at (800) 227-2345 or visit cancer.org.
Liddy Hora is the community relations representative of the American Cancer Society for a six-county area, including Webster County.