In some ways, Americans are getting healthier. The number of Americans who smoke has declined consistently, year on year. That's a cause for celebration. By some other measures, though, health statistics are getting worse. Rising obesity rates are now seen as a massive threat to the nation's health. Obesity is linked to conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many cancers, our three biggest killer diseases.
A recent Gallup-Healthways statistical report on health and well-being in US cities confirms the worrying trend towards obesity. It also points up a link between poor health outcomes, including obesity, and poverty.
The metro areas where residents scored highest on health and well-being measures were also above average in median income. The lowest scorers were the areas with high levels of poverty. Smoking rates, though declining overall, are relatively high in the same poor areas where obesity is most common.
The city which performs worst in the Gallup-Healthways survey is the Huntington-Ashland metro area, which is largely in West Virginia.
Another major provider of US health statistics, 'America's Health Rankings', presents statistical information state by state. Looking at West Virginia, one of the worst performing states, one can see that its scores for smoking, obesity, physical activity and premature death are all very high.
West Virginia is a state where the median household income is $12,000 below the national average. The percentage of the population with a first degree is around 18% as opposed to 29% nationwide. That supports another link which is often found, between educational level and health.
So it seems that poor health is associated with location, income and education, and that's increasingly recognized by government. But it's also within the power of individuals to buck those general trends.
The three main areas where everyone has the power to improve their odds of a long and healthy life are smoking, diet and physical activity. The message on smoking has already got through, and most smokers would love to give up. Unfortunately that's not easy, but the picture is an improving one.
Obesity too can be an intractable problem. For example, some individuals are unable to take part in the amount of activity they need to cut their weight down because the weight itself prevents them from doing much. Obesity can also lead to depression and a crippling lack of motivation.
For some, it may be worth considering weight loss surgery, which works by restricting appetite. A weight loss surgery guide explains the various methods involved, from radical surgery to gentler, reversible interventions. Surgery can't do it all though, and patients still need to be motivated to lose weight even if they do go down that route.
Do what it takes!
Whatever the statistics say, people are individuals. Nearly everyone has the capacity to improve their health to some degree. The answer might be cutting sugar out of your diet, a long weekly hike or a daily jog. If what's needed is surgery, then that should be considered too, because obesity causes so much unhappiness and ill-health.
By Marion Molina
Marion is a retired school nurse and grandmother of six. When she gets a chance, she likes to sit down and share her insights with others by posting on the web. You can read her enlightening posts on various websites and blogs today.