Checking in on New Year’s resolutions
“Lose weight!” “Eat healthy!” “Hit the Gym!”: Popular phrases from the New Year’s resolution list for Americans. Even so, the end of January is upon us, and many people have already fallen off of the resolution wagon.
Weight loss is a difficult goal to achieve, and for many people, maintaining a healthy weight is an even more difficult prospect. People gain weight when they consume more calories than they burn. Unfortunately the modern lifestyle of poor diet, desk-bound office jobs, and infrequent physical activity conspires to increase calorie consumption and minimize opportunities to burn them. And so the number of obese Americans is on the rise.
Let’s focus on the nutrition/diet aspects of Americans. A typical American diet consists of substantial “empty calories,” so called because they have little nutritional value and are found mainly in solid fats—such as butter, margarine, and shortening—and added sugars, such as those found in sodas and fruit drinks. In our latest report, “Drink Different: Feasible Strategies to Reduce Obesity”, we established that for every 10 percent increase in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, the obesity rate for America rises by 0.8 percent. This is after taking into consideration all other factors that might affect weight gain.
So what are we suggesting? A change in eating and drinking habits? Shun those empty calories? Yes, of course! Consider, for example, sugar-sweetened beverages, which have no nutritional value and increase diabetes risk due to the added sugars. A soda often has around 150 calories, which seems like a small portion of recommended calorie intake guidelines, but drinking one can of soda every day amounts to 4,500 calories per month. As losing a pound is associated with a reduction in 3,500 calories, simply cutting down on one soda per month would lead to losing over a pound per month.
A change in consumption of this single food item can improve health while also fostering economic gain. Our report explained that in 2030 if Americans consume three fewer 12-oz sugar sweetened beverages per month compared with the baseline rate, the number of obese Americans would be reduced by 2.6 million. The process of reaching this goal by 2030 would produce a cumulative savings of $26.2 billion (in 2010 dollars) for the U.S. health-care system. In our view, there is a moral and financial incentive to change what we eat and drink.
While healthy living constitutes healthy and nutritious diet combined with physical activity, it is clear that even one small change, like cutting down on sugary drinks, can have significant effects on health and happiness. Some experts purport that it takes 66 days to keep a healthy habit, so congratulations to all those who have stuck to their New Year’s resolutions thus far! You are almost halfway there. For everyone else, it’s not too late to start.