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Government Sets New Health Goals for Nation

In less than a month, many of us will be making New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, exercise more or stop smoking.

In a similar manner, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) just issued its new health goals for Americans. The only difference is that we have 10 years to reach them. Aptly named Healthy People 2020, these science-based 10-year national objectives are designed to improve the health of all Americans.

Every decade since 1980, the government has set a ten year agenda for improving the nation’s health. The 2020 goals cover almost 600 areas of health from arthritis, osteoarthritis and chronic back conditions; dementias; food safety, heart disease & stroke; nutrition and weight status; physical activity; and tobacco use.

Goals were established for new areas of health including adolescent health; genomics; health-related quality of life & well-being; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health; and sleep health.

For each goal, a set of objectives is outlined along with recommended public health & consumer interventions and the resources available to reach these national health objectives.

For example, consumer information available for Nutrition and Weight Status includes links to the HHS’s website where you can find quick tips for healthy snacks and a healthy foods shopping list.

According to HHS, about 19 percent of the Healthy People 2010 goals were met and progress was made on another 52 percent. However, in some areas such as obesity, things have gotten worse. In 2000, almost 25 percent of the population was obese and the goal was to cut that to 15 percent. As of 2010, the obesity rate has risen to 34 percent. Other health conditions that have also increased in prevalence are diabetes and high blood pressure.

Recognizing the difficulty in changing health behaviors, Healthy People 2020 sets more modest goals than those established a decade ago and includes the following:

- Reducing obesity 10 percent

- Cutting the number of smokers by 21 percent

- Cutting deaths from heart attack by 20 percent

- Cutting cancer deaths 10 percent

- Cutting new cases of diabetes 10 percent

- Increasing number of Americans that get no leisure-time physical activity 10 percent

Specific nutrition and diet related goals outlined in Healthy People 2020 include:

- Increase intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains

- Reduce consumption of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium

- Increase consumption of calcium

- Reducing food poisonings from E. coli, salmonella and other microbes

One of the criticisms of Healthy People is that the government is trying to focus on too many health areas. “There has to be some prioritization,” cautioned public health expert Jeff Levi of Trust for America’s Health, who thinks Healthy People program could be more successful by focusing on fewer health areas at a time.

The Bottom Line

For the most part, we all know what we should be doing to enhance our health and well-being. However, the biggest challenge is how do we get there?

With New Year’s around the bend, now is a good time to start developing an action plan. Determine the one to three health objectives that you would like to meet by end of next year. Then, break that goal down into monthly and weekly goals. After, that jot down the actions you need to take to help reach that health goal.

For example, a health goal might be to lose 25 pounds next year. If you target a pound a week, that will take roughly 6 months to accomplish. Losing a pound a week means you’ll need to cut back about 500 calories a day. Now, you can start to determine what changes you can implement with breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner and dessert to whittle down your caloric intake.

Start with a reasonable goal like eliminating bread but perhaps treating yourself once a week to a small piece. Or, for breakfast, switching out a bagel with fruit and oatmeal at least 5 days a week. It may mean just getting to the supermarket early in the week so you have healthy foods on hand and already prepared.

For help in setting life goals, you may want to check out the book, The Slight Edge: Secret to a Successful Life, by Jeff Olson.

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