Politics and Public Opinion, Polls

Eat, drink, and be merry: what the polls tell us

As we approach the holiday season, thoughts turn to family, friends, frivolity and . . . inevitable weight gain. Below we explore some of the recent poll findings concerning Americans and their health.

Guys and gals: Fifty-nine percent of Americans consider themselves over their ideal weight. Surprisingly, there was almost no difference in what men and women told Gallup on this score. Fifty-eight percent of men and 59% of women said the scale tipped a little higher than they would like.




Pain and gain: A recent Gallup poll confirmed that there’s a difference between wanting to lose weight and taking steps to lose weight. About half of Americans say they want to lose weight. But only a quarter said they are seriously trying to shed pounds.



Eating your vegetables: Gallup asks people to report if they had eaten healthily recently. Sixty-three percent of Americans said they had in Gallup’s latest asking. Based on trend data going back to 2008, healthy eating habits decline towards the end of the year. People are also less likely to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables consistently as winter progresses. Gallup also found that self-reported healthy eating habits are down slightly from this time last year.


Teetotalers: Thirty-nine percent of Americans tell Gallup that they totally abstain from alcohol. That response has been fairly consistent since Gallup first asked the question in 1939, with the exception of the late 1970s. During that period, the percentage reporting they were total abstainers was consistently below 30 percent.



Part of a 2,000 calorie diet?: Most people don’t look at the nutritional information posted in restaurants. Gallup found that 43% say they pay “a great deal” or a “fair amount” of attention to this information. People tend to look at the information on food packages though. Sixty-eight percent say they pay attention to these labels. Young people and men are less likely than others to pay attention to nutritional information, whether it’s in restaurants or on food labels. People who self-identify as very healthy are much more likely than others to look at nutritional information in either form.


Life in the fast lane: Fast food is a major part of the American diet. Eight in ten Americans eat at a fast food restaurant at least monthly. Only 4% told Gallup that they never eat there. About half chow down at these establishments weekly. The groups with the highest number of respondents who consume fast food weekly were 18 to 29 year olds (57%), men (53%), Hispanics (53%), and blacks (53%).


Obesity: Most Americans (69%) labeled obesity as a very serious health problem in a recent Pew survey. Compared to other public health problems, obesity ranked second only to cancer (79% said it was a serious problem). Obesity ranked above mental illness (67%), prescription drug abuse (63%), alcohol abuse (54%), cigarette smoking (53%), and AIDS (51%).


The larger impact of obesity: Pew asked respondents if they thought obesity was an issue with only individual consequences or larger social impacts. Thirty-one percent agreed that obesity only affects an individual and doesn’t have any major impact on society. About two-thirds thought the opposite. These respondents agree that obesity has consequences to society beyond the personal ramifications.


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