1.6 – Assessing Personal Health and Choosing an Eating Pattern

Learning Objectives

  1. Discuss ways of assessing your personal health status and your diet.
  2. Set a goal to adopt, maintain, or improve a nutrition-related practice.
  3. Formulate an effective, long-term, personal health and nutrition plan.

 

You may remember that when you were younger your mother or grandmother made you eat food or take a supplement because she said it was good for you. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to know some of the basic ways you can adapt your life to be healthier. However, the mainstream media inundates the American population with health cures and tips, making it confusing to develop the best plan for your health. This section will equip you with tools to assess and improve your health. To find some other reliable sources on health see video below.

 

Exercise 1.6.1: QuAckwatch!

With all of the false Nutrition information out there, we need to be able to figure out which websites are reliable and which ones are simply quackery (false nutrition information)! Here is a website which will help you figure out who is trying their best to give you good information on nutrition and health and who is lying!

Quackwatch.org Questionable Organizations

 

Personal Health Assessment

One of the easiest places to begin a personal health assessment is by examining the results from your last physical. Often a person will leave the doctor’s office without these results. Remember that the results belong to you and having this information on hand provides you with much of what you need to keep track of your health. During a physical, after obtaining weight and height measurements, a nurse will typically examine blood pressure. Blood pressure is a measurement of the forces in the arteries that occur during each heartbeat. It is a principle vital sign and an indicator of cardiovascular health. Desirable blood pressure is 120 over 80 mmHg. In most circumstances, a physical includes blood tests, which measure many health indicators, be sure to request the results. Once you have the results, it is good practice to file them either on your computer or in a binder so you can compare them from year to year. This way you can track your blood cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels. These are some of the more general measurements taken, but in many instances, blood tests also examine the liver and kidney function, vitamin and mineral levels, hormone levels, and disease markers. Your doctor uses all of these numbers to assess your health and you can use them to play a more active role in keeping track of your health.

 

Doctor checking a patient's ear.

Figure 1.6.1: Don’t forget to get the results of your physical the next time you visit your doctor. They will help you keep track of your health. Flickr Source Reference

 

Hearing and vision are additionally part of a general health assessment. If you wear glasses, contacts, or a hearing aid you already are aware of how important it is to know the results of these exams. If you have not experienced vision or hearing problems yet your likelihood of experiencing them markedly increases over the age of forty. Another component of overall health is oral health. The health of your teeth, gums, and everything else in your mouth are an integral component of your overall health. This becomes apparent when a person experiences a tooth infection, which if left untreated significantly impairs physical, mental, and social well-being.

Other indicators of health that you can measure yourself are body mass index (BMI) and fitness. BMI is simply a ratio of an individual’s weight and height. More specifically BMI is calculated using an individual’s body weight (in kilograms, or kg) divided by the square of their height (in meters) and the unit of measurement is kg/m2. You can calculate this yourself or use one of the many BMI calculators on the web (see Interactive). BMI is a standardized measurement that indicates if a person is underweight, of normal weight, overweight, or obese and is based on data from the average population. It has some limitations. One limitation is that it does not take into account how much of your weight is made up of muscle mass, which weighs more than fat tissue. BMI and other measurements of body composition and fitness are more fully discussed elsewhere.

 

Interactive 1.6.1

One of the better websites for assessing your health is on the HealthCalc website.  If you are honest about your habits, you can then use the results to set personal health goals for yourself.

Note: To convert your weight in pounds into kilograms simply divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. For example: 160 pounds divided by 2.2 = 72.7 kilograms. To convert your height into cm multiply your height in inches times 2.54. For example, 71 inches multiplied by 2.54 =180 cm.

 

This personal health assessment has focused primarily on physical health, but remember that mental and social well-being also affect health. During a physical, a doctor will ask how you are feeling if you are depressed and if you are experiencing behavioral problems. Be prepared to answer these questions truthfully, so that your doctor can develop a proper treatment plan to manage these aspects of health.

 

A graph of body mass index is shown above. By lining up weight and height you can find out in which range an adult person falls. Left of normal range means too thin, to the right of normal means too fat. Dashed lines give a rough idea of how much too thin or how much too fat a person is.
Figure 1.6.2: A graph of the body mass index is shown above. By lining up weight and height you can find out in which range an adult person falls. Left of normal range means too thin, to the right of normal means too fat. Dashed lines give a rough idea of how much too thin or how much too fat a person is. Image used with permission (Public Domain).

 

Taking charge of your health will pay off and equip you with the knowledge to better take advantage of your doctor’s advice during your next physical. Health calculators, such as those that calculate BMI, ideal weight, target heart rate among many others, and personal health assessments will help you to take charge of your health, but they should not take the place of visiting your doctor.

 

Current Eating pattern (BAseline)

The first step in assessing your diet is to find out if the foods you eat are good for your health and provide you with all the nutrients you need. Begin by recording in a journal what you eat every day, including snacks and beverages. There are several great methods for doing this. You can even snap pictures of the meals you eat so that you can more easily remember everything you consumed in the day.

 

Family Medical History

Because genetics play a large role in defining your health it is a good idea to take the time to learn some of the diseases and conditions that may affect you. To do this, you need to record your family’s medical history. Start by simply drawing a chart that details your immediate family and relatives. Many families have this and you may have a good start already. The next time you attend a family event start filling in the blanks. What did people die from? What country/countries did your grandparents come from? While this may be a more interesting project historically, it can also provide you with a practical tool to determine what diseases you might be more susceptible to. This will allow you to make better dietary and lifestyle changes early on to help prevent a disease from being handed down from your family to you. It is good to compile your information from multiple relatives.

 

Lifestyle Assessment

A lifestyle assessment includes evaluating your personal habits, level of fitness, emotional health, sleep patterns, and work-life balance. Many diseases are preventable by simply staying away from certain lifestyles. Don’t smoke, don’t drink excessively, and don’t do recreational drugs. Instead, make sure you exercise. Find out how much to exercise by reading the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. There is a wealth of scientific evidence that increased physical activity promotes health, prevents disease, and is a mood enhancer. Emotional health is often hard to talk about; however, a person’s quality of life is highly affected by emotional stability. Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch notes six reasons to get enough sleep: Sleep promotes healthy brain function, while lack of sleep can cause weight gain and increase appetite, decrease safety (falling asleep while driving), make a person moody and irritable, decrease health of the cardiovascular system and prevent the immune system from functioning well. Finding a balance between work and life is a difficult and continuous process involving keeping track of your time, taking advantage of job flexibility options, saying no, and finding support when you need it. Work-life balance can influence what you eat too.1

1Harvard Health Publications. “Importance of Sleep: Six Reasons Not to Scrimp on Sleep.” Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch (January 2006). © 2000–2012 Harvard University. Importance of Sleep

 

Dietary Assessment and Choosing a Plan of Eating

Taking into consideration your Personal Health Assessment, your family’s medical history, your own current health, and your lifestyle assessment, you will want to pick a pattern of eating to compare to your current eating pattern. This paragraph from Chapter 1 of the 2015-202 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, describes what is meant by the term,”eating  pattern”.

“Over the course of any given day, week, or year, individuals consume foods and beverages in combination—an eating pattern. An eating pattern is more than the sum of its parts; it represents the totality of what individuals habitually eat and drink, and these dietary components act synergistically in relation to health. As a result, the eating pattern may be more predictive of overall health status and disease risk than individual foods or nutrients. Thus, eating patterns, and their food and nutrient components, are at the core of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

The eating patterns outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, specifically, the Healthy U.S-Style Eating Pattern, the Healthy Mediterranean Pattern, or the Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern  will work well for most individuals. If you and your family do not typically eat a standard American diet, you may want to choose an eating pattern that is more similar to the foods you usually consume. See Chapter 3 Dietary Guidelines From Around the World for more information. If your family history revealed that you are at risk for cardiovascular disease, or hypertension, you may prefer to follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating pattern, or the Healthy Mediterranean Eating Pattern.  Click the text to read more about Healthy Eating Patterns and how these patterns were developed. 

By comparing what you consumed to one of these patterns of eating, you will be able to examine your current diet quality. If you choose to use the Healthy U.S.-Eating Pattern, you may use this calculator and click on the sample plan of eating that matches your results below the calculator. You could also use a commercial diet analysis program such as Spark People.  Be aware that most of the current programs are biased towards those interested in weight loss.  The questions these tools can help answer include: How much food do you have to eat to match your level of activity? How many calories should you eat? What are the best types of food to get the most nutrients? What nutrients are contained in different foods? How do you plan a menu that contains all the nutrients you need? Take the first step and assess your diet. This book will provide you with interactive resources, videos, and audio files to empower you to choose or create a plan of eating that improves your health.

 

Key Takeaways

This section equips you with some tools to assess your lifestyle and make changes towards a healthier one.

  • Step 1. Take charge of tracking your personal health.
  • Step 2. Assess your diet and identify where it can be changed to promote health and prevent disease.
  • Step 3. Start finding out the medical history of your family and identify the diseases you may be more susceptible to getting.
  • Step 4. Assess your lifestyle by evaluating your personal habits, emotional health, sleep patterns, and work-life balance.
  • Step 5. Start living a healthier life.

 

Discussion Starters

  1. Did you find the website suggested in Interactive 1.6.1 to be helpful in the assessment of your health?
  2. In analyzing your personal health, which aspect of health is the hardest for you to manage?