Healthy vs Healthful
A reader wonders about the use of the adjectives healthy and healthful:
Would you please do a segment explaining how, when, and why “healthy” and “healthful” should be used correctly. My tentative belief is that people are “healthy” or not so; and that foods are “healthful” or not so. Am I correct?
Many speakers like to draw a strict difference between these two adjectives, but it’s not necessary.
Some speakers insist that healthy must be applied only to someone or something that enjoys good health:
The healthy children ran and played in the sunshine.
Every country desires a healthy economy.
Healthful, on the other hand, is to be used only to describe something that promotes or contributes to bodily health:
The parents petitioned the school authorities to provide more healthful school lunches.
The healthful ingredients include broccoli and cabbage.
When it comes to standard usage, healthy is used with both meanings by the majority of speakers and writers. In The New York Times, for example, one may read about both “healthy children” and “healthy breakfasts.”
Both adjectives have been in the language for a very long time. The first OED citation for healthful with the meaning “wholesome, health-giving” is dated 1398. The first example of healthy with the same meaning is dated 1577.
If making a distinction between healthy and healthful gives speakers a sense of satisfaction, then they should do so. However, they needn’t criticize the majority of speakers who use healthy with both meanings.
The usage that pains my grammar nerve is this:
How to Eat Healthy
New Year’s Resolution to Eat Healthy
A few speakers may say, “Eat healthfully,” but the online evidence suggests that healthy is about to morph into an adverb.
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