Better food choices translate into a healthier America. According to the 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health, for the two out of three adult Americans who do not smoke and do not drink excessively, personal food choices have more influence on long-term health than any other factor. Food sustains us, is pleasurable, and is necessary for life. However, what we eat may affect our risk of suffering chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer--all leading causes of death.
According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity account for at least 300,000 deaths each year in the United States. These two lifestyle factors also increase one's chances for developing chronic, killer diseases--which are among the most prevalent, costly and most preventable of all health problems.
Cardiovascular disease (which primarily includes heart disease and stroke) causes more than 40% of all deaths in the United States, killing more than 950,000 Americans each year. In 1997, cardiovascular diseases were responsible for more than 11,000 deaths in Mississippi, making the state first nationwide in the the number of deaths due to cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease costs the nation more than $259 billion annually, including health expenditures and lost productivity resulting from illness and death.
Cancer will kill more than 550,000 people this year--more than 1,500 people every day. In 1997, cancer killed more than 5,800 Mississippians. The annual cost of cancer in the United States is $104 billion.
Diabetes is the nation's (and Mississippi's) seventh leading killer and is responsible for more than 169,000 deaths among Americans each year. In 1997, over 500 Mississippians died from diabetes. When diabetes does not kill, the costs of living with the disease can be enormous. The American Diabetes Association estimates that diabetes is responsible for more than $92 billion annually in medical care and lost wages.
A disturbing report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that Americans weigh more than ever, even though the opportunities for making positive health choices are greater than ever. The 1997 report found that 35 percent of Americans are overweight today as compared to 25 percent just two decades ago. In addition, a 1996 report found that Mississippians ranked second nationwide in the number of overweight adults.
Obesity is a major risk factor in developing today's chronic killer diseases. The lifestyle factors of poor diet and lack of physical activity combine to cause Mississippi's obesity problem. Dietary factors most often associated with these killer diseases are excessive consumption of fats and food energy (calories).
Even small dietary changes can provide big benefits. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have estimated the benefits of improved diets. Looking only at fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, the agencies estimated that even reductions of only about 1 percent in the intake of total fat and saturated fat and 0.1 percent cholesterol would prevent more than 56,000 cases of heart disease and cancer, avoid more than 18,000 deaths, and save more than 117,000 life-years over 20 years. They further estimated that the medical savings associated with these benefits totaled $0.8 billion. (This does not include losses in productivity or other losses due to pain and suffering.)
Consumers have clearly made changes in their eating habits over the last two decades. Ninety-two percent of the food shoppers who were interviewed for the 1995 annual survey by the Food Marketing Institute reported having changed their eating habits to make their diets more healthful. Yet a study by USDA's Economic Research Service indicated that most Americans have had difficulty making many of the dietary changes needed to meet federal nutrition guidelines. On average, most Americans are not meeting recommended servings for most of the Food Guide Pyramid's five major food groups, particularly fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, while consuming excess calories from fats, oils, and sweets.
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Nutrition News & Views Newsletter
The Food Allergy Network
American Diabetes Association
Do Your Level Best
Dairy Council of Florida
& Oils/Fat Replacers
Backgrounder on Biotechnology
Biotechnology Information Center