Good nutrition is essential for keeping Americans healthy across the lifespan. A healthy diet helps children grow and develop properly and reduce their risk of chronic diseases, including obesity. Adults who eat a healthy diet live longer and have a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Healthy eating can help people with chronic diseases manage these conditions and prevent complications.
Most Americans, however, do not have a healthy diet. Fewer than 1 in 10 adults and adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables, and 9 in 10 Americans aged 2 years or older consume more than the recommended amount of sodium.
In addition, 6 in 10 young people aged 2 to 19 years and 5 in 10 adults consume a sugary drink on a given day. Processed foods and sugary drinks add unneeded sodium, saturated fats, and sugar to many diets, increasing the risk of chronic diseases.
The Harmful Effects of Poor Nutrition
Overweight and Obesity
Eating a healthy diet, along with getting enough physical activity and sleep, can help children grow up healthy and prevent overweight and obesity. In the United States, 19% of young people aged 2 to 19 years and 40% of adults have obesity, which can put them at risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. In addition, obesity costs the US health care system $147 billion a year.
Heart Disease and Stroke
Two of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Getting too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure. Current guidelines recommend getting less than 2,300 mg a day, but Americans consume more than 3,400 mg a day on average. Over 70% of the sodium that Americans eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant foods. Eating foods low in saturated fats and high in fiber, along with regular physical activity, can help prevent high blood cholesterol.
Type 2 Diabetes
People who are overweight or have obesity are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those at a normal weight because, over time, their bodies become less able to use the insulin they make. More than 84 million US adults—or 1 in 3 people—have prediabetes, and 90% of them don’t know they have it. In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled as the US population has aged and become heavier.
An unhealthy diet can increase the risk of some cancers. Overweight and obesity are associated with at least 13 types of cancer, including endometrial (uterine) cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and colorectal cancer. These cancers make up 40% of all cancers diagnosed.