CDC works to reduce the four main risk factors for preventable chronic diseases: tobacco use, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol use.
- 1 in 4 infants is exclusively breastfed through 6 months of age.
- 14% of children aged 1 to 2 years and 16% of pregnant women are iron deficient.
- Fewer than 1 in 10 US adults and adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables.
- 6 in 10 young people and 5 in 10 adults consume a sugary drink on a given day.
- US diets are high in added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020external icon provides information on healthy eating patterns for Americans aged 2 years or older.
- CDC works to increase healthy food options in early care and education facilities, schools, workplaces, and communities.
Good nutrition is essential for keeping Americans healthy across the lifespan. A healthy diet helps children grow and develop properly and reduce their risk of chronic diseases, including obesity. Adults who eat a healthy diet live longer and have a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Healthy eating can help people with chronic diseases manage these conditions and prevent complications.
Most Americans, however, do not have a healthy diet. Although breastfeeding is the ideal source of nutrition for infants, only 1 in 4 is exclusively breastfed through 6 months of age as recommended. Fewer than 1 in 10 adults and adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables, and 9 in 10 Americans aged 2 years or older consume more than the recommended amount of sodium.
In addition, 6 in 10 young people aged 2 to 19 years and 5 in 10 adults consume a sugary drink on a given day. Processed foods and sugary drinks add unneeded sodium, saturated fats, and sugar to many diets, increasing the risk of chronic diseases.
CDC supports breastfeeding and healthier food and drink choices in settings such as early care and education facilities, schools, worksites, and communities.
The Harmful Effects of Poor Nutrition
Overweight and Obesity
Eating a healthy diet, along with getting enough physical activity and sleep, can help children grow up healthy and prevent overweight and obesity. In the United States, 19% of young people aged 2 to 19 years and 40% of adults have obesity, which can put them at risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. In addition, obesity costs the US health care system $147 billion a year.
Heart Disease and Stroke
Two of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Getting too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure. Current guidelines recommend getting less than 2,300 mg a day, but Americans consume more than 3,400 mg a day on average. Over 70% of the sodium that Americans eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant foods. Eating foods low in saturated fats and high in fiber, along with regular physical activity, can help prevent high blood cholesterol.
Type 2 Diabetes
People who are overweight or have obesity are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those at a normal weight because, over time, their bodies become less able to use the insulin they make. More than 84 million US adults—or 1 in 3 people—have prediabetes, and 90% of them don’t know they have it. In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled as the US population has aged and become heavier.
An unhealthy diet can increase the risk of some cancers. Overweight and obesity are associated with at least 13 types of cancer, including endometrial (uterine) cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and colorectal cancer. These cancers make up 40% of all cancers diagnosed.
Deficits in Brain Function
The brain develops most quickly in the first 1,000 days of life, from the start of pregnancy to the child’s second birthday. Having low levels of iron during pregnancy and early childhood is associated with mental and behavioral delays in children. Ensuring that iodine levels are high enough during pregnancy also helps a growing baby have the best brain development possible.