Thinking healthy isn’t the same as acting healthy. The gap between what lifestyle behaviors people perceive build health, versus what actually contributes to health, can lead to less than optimal health outcomes.

Based on Yankelovich’s 2009 Health & Wellness Segmentation Study, only one-half of people believe that taking medicines as prescribed is “very important” to maintaining health. Only six in 10 believe that exercising regularly is very important to health. One in six people also believe that getting regular physicals and eating a well-balanced diet are very important to maintaining health.

Yankelovich found that people identified other lifestyle behaviors as very important to maintaining health: personal hygiene and cleanliness (cited by 77%), maintaining a positive attitude (74%), staying ‘active’ (70%), having a sense of purpose in life (70%), and good family relationships (68%).

According to AdWeek, two-thirds of people interviewed for this study in February 2009 were overweight or obese. However, based on Yankelovich’s survey data, only 54% were actively trying to lose weight.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Maintaining a strong social network and keeping positive frames of mind are undoubtedly important factors for whole-health.

However, to address the most prevalent chronic conditions facing the world — heart disease, metabolic syndrome (including diabetes and obesity), and some cancers — lifestyle changes are a major part of the prescription for health.

Take the epidemic of metabolic syndrome, which impacts about 1 in 5 people in 2009. Risk factors for metabolic syndrome include overweight and obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, aging, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and elevated triglycerides (a high LDL [bad] cholesterol and a low HDL [good] cholesterol level).

Increasing adoption of the first four activities in the chart above would move the needle on diabesity around the world.

In the Harris Poll of May 21, 2009, Americans say the second most important issue for government to address is health care (separate from Medicare).

Americans have cited health care in the top 3 issues for government to address for most of the past decade, as detailed in the chart at left.

While American adults look to government for solving the health care crisis in the nation, based on the Yankelovich data, more should look to themselves to play a central role in managing personal health.

It’s easy to point to other stakeholders to take responsibility for ‘our’ health, whether drug companies, insurance plans, or government agencies; but as Pogo told us many years ago, the enemy is also ‘us.’