It’s a sign of our lack of health-consciousness as a country that we have to restate this, but healthy behaviors lead to better health outcomes. The extent to which specific behaviors contribute to such outcomes, however, has proven challenging to quantify.

That’s why a team of researchers conducted a deep dive into trends in healthy lifestyle behaviors between 1999 and March 2020. They based their findings on self-reported data from the every-other-year National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In all, the study tapped 47,852 U.S. adults, 51.5% of whom were women, with an overall mean age of 47.3 years.

The researchers examined numerous factors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle, including smoking history, alcohol consumption and physical activity. They found a “moderate” improvement in healthy activities and behaviors, though worsening trends among individuals in lower socioeconomic brackets.

Keep in mind, too, that the researchers only considered data collected up to March 2020. Beyond the obvious — that myriad behavioral patterns, healthy and otherwise, were uprooted by the pandemic — it’s anyone’s guess what the data from subsequent years will reveal.

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