In some ways, Americans are very healthy these days. We’ve been exercising more and our grocery store aisles are lined with more health-conscious options than ever. We’re even living longer, with an average life expectancy of 78.6—a five-year increase over the past four decades. However, not everything is looking up for Americans, health-wise. For all the advancements being made in the fields of medicine, nutrition, and fitness, obesity rates are still skyrocketing, cancer rates are rising, and countless lifestyle choices are contributing to our faltering wellbeing. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up 40 ways we’re unhealthier today than we were 40 years ago.
1We’re drinking more.
men drinking ways we’re unhealthy
Americans are drinking alcohol like there’s an impending liquor shortage. According to research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, alcohol use has increased in recent years, and cirrhosis rates are reaching epidemic levels. Back in 1985, just 4.4 people per 100,000 died from alcohol-related cirrhosis, but that number had jumped to 14.85 as of 2018.
2We’re eating more sugar.
woman eating donut ways we’re unhealthy
Excessive sugar consumption is linked to everything from obesity to type 2 diabetes to heart disease. And, unfortunately, Americans are eating more of the sweet stuff than ever before, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. From 1977 to 1979, the highest average amount of added sugar adults were consuming was up to 557 calories a day. By 2012, the number had gone all the way up to 708.
The consumption of fructose increased significantly as well, from an average of 37 grams a day in the 1970s to 41.4 grams per day in 2016, according to the Statistics Portal.
3We’re spending less time outdoors.
liberated and free woman ways we’re unhealthy
While school-aged kids spent an average of an hour and 40 minutes engaging in outdoor activities every week from 1981 to 1982, according to the Institute of Social Research, that number was down to 50 minutes by 2003. In fact, the National Recreation and Park Association reveals that kids are spending less time outside today than in any generation that preceded them.
So, what’s the problem with our increasingly-indoor lives? A study published in the journal Environmental Research found that spending time outside is linked to lower blood pressure, lower rates of heart disease, and reduced depression.
4We’re getting less sleep.
Man Lying Awake in Bed Because He Can’t Sleep ways we’re unhealthy
Feeling tired? You’re not alone. According to the CDC, more than one third of Americans aren’t getting the recommended seven-plus hours of sleep at night. Based on research published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews, while adults were getting 7.38 hours of sleep a night back in 1980, that number dropped to 6.69 hours by 2013.
5We’re sitting more.
man sitting down at his desk and working ways we’re unhealthy
More than one quarter of American adults spend over eight hours a day sitting down, and 45 percent report being largely inactive, according to a JAMA Network study.
It’s also worth noting that research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed that the number of high-activity jobs have decreased since 1970. Just 20 percent of adults were working high-activity jobs in 2010. Unfortunately, all that sitting is doing no favors for our health. It increases our risk of heart disease, obesity, and early death.
6We’re developing diabetes more frequently.
woman testing blood ways we’re unhealthy
Our increasingly unhealthy habits are catching up to us, especially in terms of our overall rates of diabetes. While just 2.49 percent of the adult population had diagnosed diabetes in 1979, the CDC reports that that number nearly tripled, to 7.4 percent, by 2015.
7We’re getting less vitamin D.
couple outside in sunlight ways we’re unhealthy
Vitamin D deficiency is running rampant in the United States, thanks in no small part to the uptick in hours spent indoors and fewer hours out in the sunlight.
Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine reveals that 45 percent of the individuals participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey had 30 or more nanograms per milliliter of vitamin D in their blood between 1988 and 1994. By 2004, those levels dropped to 24 nanograms per milliliter. And by 2011, 41.6 percent of American adults had vitamin D deficiency.
8We’re getting more UV exposure.
woman with mole on back ways we’re unhealthy
Unfortunately, while we may be spending less time soaking up vitamin D from the sun, we’re getting more UV exposure. According to a report from NASA, the amount of UV radiation reaching the earth’s surface has gone up significantly in the past 30 years, which is what causes certain cancers, like melanoma. So it’s no surprise that the American Cancer Society reports that melanoma rates have been rising steadily over the same period, too. And to protect yourself, make sure you’re aware of these 20 Skin Cancer Symptoms Everyone Needs to Know.
9We’re dying of overdoses more frequently.
A closeup of flowers atop a funeral casket outdoors
The opioid epidemic has claimed an increasing number of lives over the past 40 years. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh discovered an exponential increase in total drug-related mortality in the United States since 1979. At that time, just over 1 per 100,000 individuals died from drug overdoses. By 2016, that number was nearly 17.
10We’re using more plastic.
woman drinking water ways we’re unhealthy
All those plastic bottles we drink from are doing more than just harming the environment—they’re harming us, too. A study conducted by Orb Media revealed that, of the water samples taken across the globe, more than 80 percent had microscopic plastic fibers in them, many of which come from plastic bottles and bags.Since it wasn’t until 1979 that the first plastic bags were introduced in U.S. grocery stores, there wasn’t much microplastic pollution in our water 40 years ago.