A new study from MUSC says people in this country aren't as healthy as they were 20 years ago.

In related news, 33 percent of Americans under 25 didn't realize Red Bull is not a vegetable.

When this report came in to the newsroom Tuesday, it was met with a collective "Well, duh." This is, after all, South Carolina, one of the most obese states in the Union (No. 5 with a bullet as of 2008).

But Dr. Dana E. King, a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina and one of the report's authors, was floored by these findings.

"I was surprised and a little disappointed," King says. "You would expect the opposite to be true. Every time you go to work, it seems you drive by three or four gyms, see a number of people jogging or out walking their dogs."

He's got a point. Healthy habits seem to be quite fashionable these days, if you believe marketing campaigns. After all, people get rich bottling tap water. Smoking has been banned in most places with electricity. And even McDonald's (motto: You deserve 35,000 calories today) has a healthy menu.

But Americans are resourceful. They have found a way around all that marketing and are getting fatter by the day.

Food fight

The MUSC study says that in the last 18 years alcohol consumption is up, smoking rates have held steady and body mass indexes are rising. The number of people who eat five or more vegetables a day has plummeted, and fewer people exercise at least 12 times a month.

It's enough to make you want a good stiff drink.

The good news is we have something to blame for this: the economy.

King says the world has changed a lot from the days of "Leave It To Beaver." In two-income families where mom and dad work, there is often no one home to cook a balanced dinner. A lot of times, folks just grab what they can, shovel it in. We have become a fast-food nation.

"There are some consequences to that," King says. "Our health has gotten lost in the shuffle."

Even folks with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes don't eat right or exercise enough. And they should know better.

But then, everyone should. As a wise man in a great movie — Animal House — once said: "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

High cost of bad living

The MUSC study, available in the new issue of The American Journal of Medicine, says the number of people who follow major healthy habits has dropped to just 8 percent of the population. That's down from 15 percent just two decades ago.

That's a big deal. All these unhealthy souls put a greater burden on the health system, perhaps drive up the price of medical care.

And you know what that means: We all have to work more, and eat more cheaply, to pay for insurance.

But there is some more good news: We no longer have to envy those folks who run clear across the Cooper River Bridge every year.

They are apparently the ones bucking the trend.