America’s Health Goals

According to recent statistics, our eating habits—the foods we eat and drink and those we avoid—play a major role in preventing 4 of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. These include heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes (see sidebar: Top 10 Causes of Death, this page). In addition, one in four adults has high blood pressure, a leading contributor to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and premature death.We didn’t always have this knowledge. But now that we do, experts in nutrition working with the federal government have provided us with nutrition and physical activity guidelines for staying healthy and preventing disease.

Many government and health care associations focus their efforts on helping Americans eat well. Chief among them is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which created a set of national health goals entitled Healthy People 2010.

Healthy People 2010

The ultimate goals of Healthy People 2010 are to improve the nation’s health status and to eliminate health disparity among segments of the U.S. population. One of the priorities of this initiative is to foster a change in America’s eating

Top 10 Causes of Death* (U.S. Population)

Many of the leading causes of death in the United States are directly related to diet and excessive alcohol consumption.


Cause of Death


Heart disease






Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease






Pneumonia and influenza


Diabetes mellitus




Kidney disease


Chronic liver disease, cirrhosis

* Top 10 causes of death according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 1997. t Causes of death in which diet plays a part. $ Causes of death in which excessive alcohol consumption plays a part.

Healthy People 2010

Overall Health Goals: Increase quality and years of healthy life and eliminate health disparities among different segments of the population

Focus Area: Nutrition and Overweight*


Promote health and reduce chronic diseases associated with diet and weight Weight status and growth:

Increase proportion of people who are of healthy weight Decrease obesity in adults Decrease overweight or obesity in children and adolescents Reduce growth retardation in children Food and nutrient consumption:

Increase fruit intake (2+ servings daily) Increase vegetable intake (3+ servings daily) Increase grain product intake (6+ servings daily) Decrease saturated fat intake (less than 10% of calories) Decrease total fat intake (no more than 30% of calories)

Food and nutrient consumption (continued):

Decrease sodium intake (2,400 milligrams or less daily) Meet dietary needs for calcium Reduce iron deficiency and anemia

Schools, worksites, and nutrition counseling

Meals and snacks at school should contribute to overall dietary quality Employers promote nutrition education and weight management at the worksite or through health plans

Nutrition counseling for medical conditions

Include nutrition counseling in physician office visits

Food security

Increase access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods for an active, healthy life

* Nutrition and Overweight is one focus area (of 28) that targets interventions designed to increase quality and years of healthy life and to eliminate health disparities among different segments of the population.

Mounting scientific evidence supports a link among diet, health promotion, and disease prevention. Improved nutrition has the potential to prevent or delay many diseases often associated with advancing age. With prevention of illness comes the possibility of reducing health care costs. Therefore, one of the main nutrition objectives is to promote health and reduce chronic diseases associated with diet and obesity. This includes reducing the number of people who die of heart disease, reducing the number of cancer deaths, reducing the prevalence of overweight and diabetes, and reducing growth retardation in children.

To help achieve these health goals, specific nutrition targets were set. These include:

• increasing the proportion of the population who are at a healthy weight

• optimizing food and nutrient consumption, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

• improving nutrition and nutrition education at schools and at worksites

• including nutrition counseling as a regular part of health care

• increasing access to a healthful and safe food supply

Coalitions of government health agencies and the food industry are working collaboratively to provide consistent messages that emphasize the importance of eating a diet rich in plant foods—fruits, vegetables, and grains—and containing less fat (see Other Voices, page 14).

For example, the government has required that labels on foods provide clear and concise information on nutrient content and truthful health claims based on scientific fact. The food industry is developing healthier lower-fat and lower-calorie products, restaurants are identifying healthful choices on menus, and educational efforts on the importance of good nutrition have been stepped up.

5 a Day for Better Health

The National Cancer Institute of the United States and the Produce for Better Health Foundation (a nonprofit consumer education foundation representing the fruit and vegetable industry) collaborated in a unique partnership in 1991 to develop the 5 a Day for Better Health program. This is a nationwide educational effort to encourage Americans to eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day for better health. A minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day provides the RDA for many of the vitamins and minerals.The recommendation that we eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day also is based on the results of numerous studies showing the positive effects of fruits and vegetables on health as a result of their ability to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. Ample consumption of fruits and vegetables forms the basis of some of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the guidelines of the American Cancer Society and others, outlined below. The 5 a Day program works through state public health departments, retail food stores, school classrooms and cafeterias, the military, and various media. The goal of the program is to educate the public about the benefits of fruits and vegetables and to demonstrate easy and delicious ways to fit more of them into your diet.


Have We Made Progress?

The explosion of health information and nutrition education programs has led to good progress on several fronts. Deaths from heart disease have declined and, to a slight degree, so have deaths from some cancers. On average, the intake of total fat and saturated fat has decreased. Food labeling provides much more useful information now. Restaurants offer more low-fat and low-calorie options on their menus.

Although consumption of grain products is on the rise, many grains are in the form of snacks such as corn chips and popcorn. Fewer than one-third of American children and less than one-half of adults eat the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables. Overall, fat intake is decreasing (from 40 percent of calories in the late 1970s to 33 percent in the mid-1990s). However, only about a third of adults meet the "30 percent or fewer calories from fat" recommendation of nutrition experts.

Nutritionists are now assessing our progress in meeting the goals of Healthy People 2010. These efforts will include evaluating healthful behaviors in the areas of fitness and nutrition, ensuring a safe food supply, and reducing and preventing diseases such as osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Of course, national goals are met one person at a time. Fortunately, there is a road map for achieving fitness and health. Scientists and nutrition experts have mapped out a sound plan for healthful eating and exercise based on the most current findings about nutrition.

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