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1.1: Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Health

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    Learning Objectives

    • Learn about the lifestyle choices that affect health

    Good nutrition, physical activity and a healthy lifestyle are essential for good health. A well established body of research links poor diet and inactivity to a wide range of preventable diseases and premature death. The U.S. Center's for Disease Control (CDC) tracks data about the leading causes of death and disease and provides a wide range of resources for health professionals and the public to support healthier lifestyles.

    fig 1.4.1.jpg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Image by John Towner on / CC0.

    • 7 of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States are due to chronic diseases.
    • Not eating a healthy diet or getting enough physical activity increases a person’s chance of having a chronic disease.
    • The United States spends $147 billion on obesity-related health care costs each year.
    • The country spends $117 billion on health care costs associated with inadequate physical activity each year.
    • CDC’s nutrition, physical activity, and obesity programs focus on creating lasting changes to make healthy choices the easy choices.

    This CDC interactive website can be used to explore data, trends and maps about nutrition, physical activity and obesity in the U.S.

    In addition to nutrition, health is affected by genetics, the environment, life cycle, and lifestyle. A greater discussion of this will follow in subsequent chapters in this book, as there is an enormous amount of information regarding this aspect of lifestyle. Dietary habits include what a person eats, how much a person eats during a meal, how frequently meals are consumed, and how often a person eats out. Other aspects of lifestyle include physical activity level, recreational drug use, and sleeping patterns, all of which play a role in health and impact nutrition. Following a healthy lifestyle improves your overall health.

    Physical Activity

    In 2008, the Health and Human Services (HHS) released the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans[1]. The HHS states that “Being physically active is one of the most important steps that Americans of all ages can take to improve their health. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provides science-based guidance to help Americans aged six and older improve their health through appropriate physical activity.” The guidelines recommend exercise programs for people in many different stages of their lifecycle. The HHS reports that there is strong evidence that increased physical activity decreases the risk of early death, heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers; prevents weight gain and falls; and improves cognitive function in the elderly. These guidelines are scheduled for an update in 2018. Also unveiled recently are the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, which are available at the website of The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology[2].

    Tobacco and Recreational Drug Use

    Recreational drug use, which includes tobacco-smoking, electronic smoking device use, marijuana and alcohol consumption along with narcotic and other illegal drug use, has a large impact on health. Smoking cigarettes can cause lung cancer, eleven other types of cancer, heart disease, and several other disorders or diseases that markedly decrease quality of life and increase mortality. In the United States, smoking causes more than four hundred thousand deaths every single year, which is far more than deaths associated with any other lifestyle component[3].

    The use of electronic smoking devices such as e-cigarettes and other vaping devices has grown in popularity as an alternative to smoking. However a growing body of scientific research shows growing concern about health risks from use of these products[4]. In addition to highly addictive nicotine, these products contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients such as:

    • ultrafine particles that can damage the lungs
    • flavorings that have been linked to serious health problems
    • heavy metals and volatile organic compounds

    The United States Center's for Disease Control and the Surgeon General have developed the following websites and educational campaigns to education the public about the serious health concerns related to use of these trending devices:

    Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol intake causes an estimated seventy-five thousand deaths per year[4]. Staying away from excessive alcohol intake lowers blood pressure, the risk from injury, heart disease, stroke, liver problems, and some types of cancer. While excessive alcohol consumption can be linked to poor health, consuming alcohol in moderation has been found to promote health such as reducing the risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes in some people. The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines drinking in moderation as no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men[5].

    Illicit and prescription drug abuse are associated with decreased health and is a prominent problem in the United States. The health effects of drug abuse can be far-reaching, including the increased risk of stroke, heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and liver disease[6].

    Sleeping Patterns

    Inadequate amounts of sleep, or not sleeping well, can also have remarkable effects on a person’s health. In fact, sleeping can affect your health just as much as your diet. Scientific studies have shown that insufficient sleep increases the risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and depression. Abnormal breathing during sleep, a condition called sleep apnea, is also linked to an increased risk for chronic disease[7].

    Discussion Starter

    • How might your dietary and lifestyle choices affect your health now and into the future? Which choices are you willing to improve?


    3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Smoking and Tobacco Use.” Updated December 1, 2016. Accessed September 20, 2017.
    4. Talal Alzahrani; Ivan Pena; Nardos Temesgen; Stanton A. Glantz ( 2018) Association Between Electronic Cigarette Use and Myocardial Infarction, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Published online:August 22, 2018. DOI:
    5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol and Drug Use.” Updated June 7, 2012. Accessed September 20, 2017.
    6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. Published December 2015. Accessed September 2017.
    7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Health Consequences of Drug Misuse. Updated March, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017.
    8. National Sleep Foundation. Sleep Disorders. Updated 2017. Accessed September 2017.


    This page titled 1.1: Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Health is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by The University of Hawaiʻi.