Nutrition and fitness facts
People are surrounded by information about nutrition and fitness. News reports provide frequent updates that often contradict other reports. Books and websites promote the latest popular diet plans. It’s easy for people who want to change their eating habits, fitness levels or weight to become confused or discouraged.
Research on nutrition and physical activity continues because these are such important areas of health. But it’s important to know that many aspects of nutrition and physical activity are known, well researched and understood. People can make positive choices that will improve their nutrition and physical fitness.
Nutrition education—what’s a healthy diet?
The term “diet” is often used to describe a short-term plan to lose weight. But this kind of diet generally doesn’t work. Almost all diets designed to help people lose weight restrict calories in some way. People are advised to eat much less than usual or eat just a few specific kinds of food. Some people can maintain a restricted diet like this for a while, but it doesn’t work over the long term. When they stop following the diet, they return to eating as they did before, and usually put their lost weight back on again.
The word “diet” can also refer to the overall mix of food and drink a person consumes over time. A healthy diet includes foods that have high levels of nutrients. This means they provide high amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fatty acids or fiber for the number of calories they contain.
Relationships between diet and long-term health are still being studied, but nutrition experts agree that many Americans eat too many calories. They also generally eat too much saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium, and too little fiber. Diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies are rare in the U.S., but many serious health problems result from a “typical” American diet.
Physical education—what does it take to be fit?
As early as the fifth century BC, physicians in ancient Greece knew that eating well and exercising led to good health. Being physically fit helps a person meet the physical demands of daily life and have energy left over to enjoy other activities. There’s also a strong link between fitness and mental well-being. Studies show that people who are physically fit are less tired and handle stress better.
Physical activity can be seen on a spectrum. A “sedentary” (or inactive) lifestyle lies at one end of the spectrum and the high-level training of an elite athlete is at the other. Most people fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Even moderate activity is good for health, and it’s good for nearly everyone to engage in regular physical activity.
People get the most benefits when they are physically active every day, or nearly every day, through play, games, sports, work, travel or planned exercise. Once people find activities they enjoy doing, they generally enjoy exercising because it’s fun, is a good way to spend time with friends, and helps them feel good and look better.
Maintaining a healthy weight
More Americans are overweight or obese than ever before. According to the CDC, over one third of adults are obese (39.8%). Overweight and obesity among children and teens are also at alarming rates. For children and adolescents ages 2 to 19, the prevalence of obesity is about 18.5%, nearly 1 in 5.
At the most basic level, overweight and obesity result from an imbalance between calories consumed and energy spent. Too many calories eaten, too little physical activity, or a mix of both, will lead to weight gain most of the time. Overweight children and teens may have chronic health problems that used to occur only in adults. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and hardening of the arteries. Obesity also increases the risk of cancer.