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1.5 Assessing Personal Health

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 swallow that teaspoonful of cod liver oil because she said it was good for you. You don’t have to have a PhD 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 Note 1.49 "Interactive 1.7".

Interactive 1.7

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has listed the top ten resources on the internet for consumer health. Forget the blogs and discover sources that use science to back up their information on promoting health and preventing disease.

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 heart beat. It is a principle vital sign and an indicator of cardiovascular health. A desirable blood pressure is 120 over 80 mmHg. In most circumstances a physical includes blood tests, which measure many health indicators, and you have to request the results. Once you have the results in hand, it is good practice to file them in a binder so you can compare them from year to year. This way you can track your blood-cholesterol levels and other blood-lipid levels and blood-glucose levels. These are some of the more general measurements taken, but in many instances blood tests also examine 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.

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.

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 refers to 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 Note 1.50 "Interactive 1.8"). 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 in Chapter 11 "Energy Balance and Body Weight".

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. Note 1.50 "Interactive 1.8" provides some tools to assess your mental and social well-being.

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.

Interactive 1.8

One of the better websites for assessing your health is available at the Institute for Good Medicine from the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

Dietary Assessment

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. Then visit the USDA website,, which has various tools to help you assess your diet. You can track calories over time, diet quality, and find many other tools to evaluate your daily food consumption. 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? Make the first step and assess your diet. This book will provide you with interactive resources, videos, and audio files to empower you to create a diet that improves your health.

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 did Grandpa 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 2008 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.Harvard Health Publications. “Importance of Sleep: Six Reasons Not to Scrimp on Sleep.” Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch (January 2006). © 2000–2012 Harvard University. _health Finding 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.

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. What websites in Note 1.50 "Interactive 1.8" did you find to be the most helpful in the assessment of your health?
  2. Share your comments on these tools with your classmates and get their opinions, too.