Certainly in the United States, but also worldwide, even in the developing nations, noncommunicable diseases have become the dominant health problem. These are usually associated with poor health habits—particularly, to poor diet choices. This trend is costly and deadly. Mark Bittman provides some context in a New York Times article: How to Save a Trillion Dollars.
Natalie Wolchover produced an article that illustrates the efficacy of measures taken to encourage better lifestyle choices. Her example is New York City.
The importance of living healthy is also demonstrated.
What steps were taken to encourage better health habits?
A ten year increase in lifespan seems worth such a small infringement on one’s freedom.
It is popular in conservative circles to mock attempts to promote healthy eating habits for our children as silly, worthless, or even tyrannical. Sabrina Tavernise wrote in the New York Times of the effort to limit access to unhealthy foods while at school—an effort that public health experts have been pleading for.
The study tracked the weight of samples of children in 40 states between 2004 and 2007 as they moved from fifth to eighth grade.
"The study also found that obese fifth graders who lived in states with stronger laws were more likely to reach a healthy weight by the eighth grade than those living in states with no laws."
The laws limit access to unhealthy food for a fraction of a child’s day over three years of his life. Imagine the benefits that would accrue if limited access persisted over a lifetime.
There are some rather startling data that indicate lifestyle choices can dramatically limit longevity. This source provides a plot of life expectancy at age 50 by county for both women and men.
Life expectancies for men at age 50 vary by about 10 years; those of women vary by about 18 years. The strong regional correlations suggest that there are cultural factors at work, with southern states often indicated to be regions where obesity is high and eating habits are poor.
The sources quoted here indicate that minor changes in lifestyle could add up to10 years to an average person’s lifespan. Government intervention has been shown to be effective in improving health prospects. Unfortunately, the regions most in need of intervention are the ones least likely to welcome it.