7 Shocking Facts about the Health of Americans

By Michael Galvan | 02/26/2016

It’s easy to lose track of the big picture. We live our lives in a single frame of a very long movie. This short focus means that we often do not know how our behavior compares to national averages, or what those averages really mean.

Being better informed can help us make positive changes for ourselves, and our society. Here are seven shocking facts about the health of Americans.

1. The average American consumes 3 pounds of sugar per week.

The USDA estimates that the average American consumes nearly 52 teaspoons of sugar every day.1  That is nearly three pounds a week! Three pounds is about the weight of an average two slice toaster. That any one person eats that amount of sugar is hard to believe, but it’s true.

2. Only 1-in-3 children are physically active every day.2

As more parents and government leaders take steps to battle childhood obesity, there will need to be an even greater emphasis on physical activity. Despite the high amount of energy children naturally have, they can still benefit from even a moderate amount of exercise. Be an example for your kids, and incorporate physical activity as part of weekly family activities to help set healthy routines.

3. There are 20 million new Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in the United States each year.

The CDC estimates that STI’s cost the healthcare system nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs-- and more than 110 Americans live with STI’s.3 Sexually transmitted diseases continue to be a problem, but education and prevention may decrease these numbers.

4. Approximately 46% of homeless adults staying in shelters suffer from serious mental illness or substance abuse problems.4

Many people suffering from mental illness in America are not getting proper treatment. These individuals are often overlooked and don’t have access to help. It’s important that we increase access to routine medical and behavioral health services, to help individuals who have lost their homes.

5. Almost 40% of middle-aged Americans (ages 40-59) are obese.5

A large number of Americans qualify as obese. The condition has reached epidemic proportions. If we want to change this trend, we will have to individually and collectively eat healthier, and demand better options from restaurants and pre-packaged food companies.

6. Americans eat more meat than citizens of almost any other country.

The average American eats 270 pounds of meat per year.6 That number is second only to Luxembourg, a small country in Europe with a population of half a million. While hamburgers are an American favorite, too much red meat can increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. As a result, many school systems have begun to implement meatless Mondays, offering vegetarian options once a week.

7. The 5-year relative survival rate for all cancers is up 49%!7

Finally, some good news! A nationwide emphasis on early detection and improvements in treatment has made it much more likely that people diagnosed with cancer will survive. There are still many big strides that need to be made, but we are headed in the right direction.

Knowing these facts is important. With a better understanding of national trends, you can make more healthful choices. These decisions will help you live a longer and happier life.


1. http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf
2.National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The Fitness Equation: Physical Activity + Balanced Diet = Fit Kids. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1999.
3. http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats/sti-estimates-fact-sheet-feb-2013.pdf
4. https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2010HomelessAssessmentReport.pdf
5. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of Obesity among Adults: United States, 2011-2012. NCHS Data Brief, 131, 2013.
6. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/06/27/155527365/visualizing-a-nation-of-meat-eaters
7. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@editorial/documents/document/acspc-044552.pdf