How many times have you heard, “Everyone should eat a minimum of 5 servings of vegetables and fruit every day for good health.” You’ve probably heard it so many times you’ve tuned it out. Despite knowing we should eat more vegetables and fruit, fewer than 10% of us do. Yes, you read that correctly. More than 90% of Americans currently do not meet even the minimum guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake. What about overweight and obesity? We are told again and again that a healthy body weight is non-negotiable for wellness. Despite this, nearly 75% of American adults are overweight or obese. That’s the trouble with well-meaning public health campaigns. They are easy to tune out. They often don’t help people change behavior. Most of us don’t give these campaigns a second thought. If we did, we’d probably be doing a better job with our diets and our weight! But what if your life depended on it? Many of us do not understand how powerful our daily choices can be for restoring good health. Very few of us understand how much power we have to ward off heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, and more, as we age. Bogus Beliefs About the Causes of Disease A new study demonstrates all too well how little we understand the connections between our choices and our health. Nearly 500 healthy women from the general population were surveyed. (1) The majority of the women listed genetics as the number one cause of breast and colon cancer. This is, in fact, not true! The truth? Cancer experts have determined that up to 10% of breast cancers and about 25% of colon cancers are directly attributable to a specific genetic problem. That leaves 90% of breast cancers and 75% of colon cancers that are caused by something other than genetics. What are those other things? The leading causes of breast, colon, and numerous other cancers are obesity, lack of exercise, use of tobacco, poor diet, and failure to take advantage of effective screening methods, such as colonoscopy and mammography. What about heart disease, the number 1 killer in the US? Research suggests that up to 77% of heart attacks may be due to lifestyle factors. (2) The most important lifestyle factors that lead directly to heart attacks include smoking; obesity, especially when the extra fat is carried around the waist; lack of physical activity, and failure to follow recommended dietary practices. (2, 3) Remember those vegetables and fruit that 90% of us don’t get enough of? That’s what we’re talking about. Know Thyself It’s clear most people don’t understand that the choices we make every day truly do determine health. Simply put, who stays healthy and who ends up with a terrible diagnosis of cancer, heart disease, or another health condition is almost completely within our control. But it gets worse. Many of us don’t even have the self-awareness to admit we are less healthy than we should be. A survey conducted in late 2009 found that more than half of Americans believe everyone else’s health is going in the wrong direction. Only 17% said their own health was going in the wrong direction. There’s plenty of additional evidence of our inability to see the truth in the mirror: About a third of Americans give themselves an A for personal health, while 92% of doctors rate our health as a C or worse. About one-third of Americans give themselves an A for healthy eating, and again, 92% of doctors give them a C or less for eating healthfully. Around one-third of us rate ourselves an A for regular exercise, but 91% of doctors give a grade of C or lower for exercise. Nearly 100% of us agree that regular checkups with the doctor are important for health. Despite this, 70% of those surveyed said they purposely avoid going to the doctor! Whew! That’s a pretty big disconnect. This is not to say that anyone deserves to be sick. It does not mean it’s a person’s fault if he or she is diagnosed with a serious illness. Nobody deserves cancer, heart disease, stroke, or diabetes. No matter what a person eats or doesn’t eat, whether a person smokes or not, or how much extra padding a person carries, getting sick is not something I, or you, would wish upon someone. But it is still important to understand the discrepancies between belief and reality with our own health. Are You Blocking Your Own Efforts? There are two important reasons we need to “get a grip” on reality: If we don’t recognize that we are unhealthy to begin with, why would we try to change? If we don’t think we have any control over our risk of disease, why would we want to change? If we’re convinced it’s all “genetic”, then why bother with anything else? One key health area where we overestimate our good health is overweight and obesity. Many overweight and obese adults do not know that they are above a healthy body weight. (5-7) It may seem as if being overweight should be “obvious.” But if 75% of us are overweight – the current percentage of American adults who are – it’s harder to see the truth. If heavy is normal, it’s harder to see being heavier as a problem. Tuning Back In To Better Health The first step toward improving health, from reaching an ideal body weight and eating more vegetables and fruit, to quitting smoking, is accepting where you are. You won’t make changes if you don’t think you need to. So take a step back and take a good long look in the mirror. Let go of self-blame and move onto self-care! Your future health is in your hands.  

Author's Bio: 

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, is an internationally recognized expert in nutrition, chronic disease, cancer, health and wellness as well as the Executive Editor of Nutrition Intelligence Report, a free natural health and nutrition newsletter. For more information, past issues or to sign up for a free subscription, visit

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