Large Numbers of People Claim to be Changing Their Diets in Ways That Would Improve Their Health

However many Americans may be thinking wishfully

PR Newswire

NEW YORK, Nov. 9, 2010 /PRNewswire/ — A new Harris Poll finds that large numbers of people claim to be changing the foods and drinks they consume.  Many of these changes are in line with the guidance provided by experts, such as eating more fruit, whole grains and vegetables and consuming less soda, white bread and processed food.  However the data strongly suggest that many of these replies reflect wishful thinking and public knowledge of what people think they should be doing, rather than actual changes in behavior.

(Replies are analyzed by Americans’ Body Mass Index (BMI), showing the differences between those who are of normal weight and those who are overweight, obese or morbidly obese.  However most of these differences are not large.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,620 adults surveyed online between September 14 and 20, 2010 by Harris Interactive.

Some of the interesting findings in this poll are:

  • Majorities of all adults claim that they frequently or somewhat often eat healthier at home compared to when dining out (79%), drink water as opposed to another type of beverage at meals (74%), choose healthy snacks (72%), eat a balanced diet (72%), read nutritional information on packaged food products before buying it (68%), attempt to eat smaller portions (64%), and exercise regularly (57%);
  • However, a note of caution is necessary; some of the responses to this and other questions in the poll may reflect what people think they should be doing rather than what they are actually doing.   Even if this is the case, the good news is that many people are either doing or know they should be doing these things to stay healthy;
  • While there are some differences in their replies to this question among those who are and are not overweight or obese, the differences are not very large.  Most of those who are obese or even morbidly obese claim to be doing the same healthy things that those who are not overweight say they are doing;
  • There are many variations in eating habits. Relatively few people are regularly (5 or more times per week) eating a full breakfast (22%), a full or well-balanced lunch (21%)  or a full or well-balanced dinner (37%) five or more times a week;
  • Here again there are not very large differences in claimed eating habits between the obese, the overweight and those of normal weight;
  • When asked what they have been eating and drinking more or less of in the last few months, very large numbers claim to have made many changes in their diet.  As in some of the other questions, we believe that that Americans reflect not just what some they are doing but what they think they should be doing. If all the people who claim to be consuming more or less of these foods and drinks actually were, there would have been huge changes in sales for the various items — evidence of which, we have not seen.
  • Large numbers of people claim to be eating more fresh fruit (50%), more whole grain items (41%), less white bread (38%), less soda (37%), less processed food (35%), more raw vegetables (34%), less processed meat (34%) and more nuts (30%).  Adults who are obese and those who are morbidly obese do not have very different results than that of all adults.
  • Large majorities of all adults understand that what they eat is important.  More than 70% believe that the amount of each of the following in their diet is very or somewhat important:  fat (78%), whole grain (78%), protein (77%), calories (74%), saturated fat (74%), sugar (72%), sodium (67%), carbohydrates (65%), and hydrogenated oil (61%).

Confirming the results of a recent Harris/HealthDay Poll, this new poll finds that many of those who are overweight and obese are not fully aware.  Only 61% of the morbidly obese, and 26% of the obese (but not morbidly obese) feel that they are “much heavier than they should be.”  And 20% of those who are overweight (but not obese) describe their weight as “about right.”

So What?

When reading the results of this poll, it is necessary to recognize that the country has an “obesity epidemic” with rapidly rising numbers of people who are overweight and obese.  There is no good evidence that this trend has stopped or gone into reverse.  Given this, it is sensible to conclude, as we have above, that many Americans reflect public aspirations and public knowledge of what they should be doing rather than an accurate report of actual behavior.  However, even if this is true there is some good news.  Many people know and understand some of the changes in their diet that they should be making.  But, as in other areas of behavior change, knowledge alone, while important, is not enough to change behavior.

TABLE 1A
EATING HABITS AND BEHAVIORS
“Now we’d like to ask a few questions about your eating habits.  Please indicate how often, if at all, you do each of the following.”

Base: All adults

 

Frequently/
Somewhat often (NET)

Frequently

Somewhat often

Never/ Not very often (NET)

Not very often

Never

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

 

Eat healthier when at home, compared to when dining out

79

37

43

21

16

4

 

Drink water as opposed to another type of beverage at meals

74

45

29

26

20

6

 

Choose healthy snacks

72

24

47

28

22

6

 

Eat a balanced diet

72

24

48

28

22

6

 

Read nutrition and calorie information on packaged food products, before deciding whether or not to purchase

68

36

32

32

20

12

 

Actively attempt to eat smaller portions

64

22

42

36

27

9

 

Exercise regularly

57

25

32

43

31

12

 

Limit my carbohydrate intake

43

15

28

57

35

22

 

Make special requests in restaurants, such as asking for the dressing on the side or an entree grilled or broiled, rather than fried

42

18

24

58

34

24

 

Choose to sacrifice taste for lower calorie or less fattening food products

38

10

28

62

39

23

 

Choose restaurants based on the availability of lighter options

33

9

24

67

37

30

 

Keep track of my daily calorie or food intake

31

10

20

69

31

39

 

Eat late night meals

30

9

21

70

47

23

 

Note: Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

 
             

TABLE 1B
EATING HABITS AND BEHAVIORS
“Now we’d like to ask a few questions about your eating habits.  Please indicate how often, if at all, you do each of the following.”
Summary of those saying “frequently” or “somewhat often”

Base: All adults

 

Total

BMI Score

 

Normal weight

Over-weight

Obese

Morbidly obese

 

%

%

%

%

%

 

Eat healthier when at home, compared to when dining out

79

81

83

74

72

 

Drink water as opposed to another type of beverage at meals

74

73

76

71

71

 

Choose healthy snacks

72

72

75

70

63

 

Eat a balanced diet

72

75

75

70

61

 

Read nutrition and calorie information on packaged food products, before deciding whether or not to purchase

68

70

67

62

65

 

Actively attempt to eat smaller portions

64

55

72

60

62

 

Exercise regularly

57

64

66

49

34

 

Limit my carbohydrate intake

43

35

50

40

46

 

Make special requests in restaurants, such as asking for the dressing on the side or an entree grilled or broiled, rather than fried

42

44

44

38

38

 

Choose to sacrifice taste for lower calorie or less fattening food products

38

39

42

33

33

 

Choose restaurants based on the availability of lighter options

33

33

35

30

28

 

Keep track of my daily calorie or food intake

31

31

34

25

29

 

Eat late night meals

30

32

32

22

33

 
 
           

TABLE 2A
FREQUENCY OF EATING HABITS
“How often would you say you eat the following?”

Base: All adults

 

5 or more times per week

3-4 times per week

1-2 times per week

Never

 

%

%

%

%

 

A full breakfast

22

17

38

22

 

A limited breakfast, such as only a cup of coffee

17

15

23

46

 

A mid-morning snack

10

18

38

34

 

A full or well-balanced lunch

21

30

35

14

 

A lunch on-the-go with little thought to nutritional content

6

11

41

42

 

An afternoon snack

13

28

41

18

 

A full or well-balanced dinner

37

37

21

5

 

Dessert or an after-dinner treat

13

23

48

16

 

Many small meals throughout the day, rather than 3 standard meals per day

12

18

31

39

 

Note: Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

 
         

TABLE 2B
FREQUENCY OF EATING HABITS
“How often would you say you eat the following?”
Summary of those who say “5 or more times per week”

Base: All adults

 

Total

BMI Score

 

Normal weight

Over-weight

Obese

Morbidly obese

 

%

%

%

%

%

 

A full breakfast

22

22

29

13

17

 

A limited breakfast, such as only a cup of coffee

17

16

21

15

11

 

A mid-morning snack

10

10

13

6

9

 

A full or well-balanced lunch

21

18

27

17

20

 

A lunch on-the-go with little thought to nutritional content

6

4

10

2

10

 

An afternoon snack

13

14

15

9

12

 

A full or well-balanced dinner

37

39

41

35

29

 

Dessert or an after-dinner treat

13

13

16

11

10

 

Many small meals throughout the day, rather than 3 standard meals per day

12

11

15

7

13

 
 
           

TABLE 3A
CHANGE IN EATING HABITS
“In the last few months, would you say that you have been eating or drinking more or less of the following items?”

Base: All adults

 

Less

Neither more nor less

More

Not applicable

 

%

%

%

%

 

Yogurt

15

38

29

18

 

Snack bars

25

43

14

18

 

Fresh fruit

7

41

50

2

 

Raw vegetables

9

52

34

5

 

Fruit juice

16

50

25

9

 

Cheese

13

64

20

3

 

White bread

38

39

9

15

 

Soda

37

37

12

14

 

Diet beverages

19

34

14

33

 

Processed foods

35

51

8

6

 

Processed meats

34

49

8

10

 

Nuts

14

50

30

6

 

Pasta

17

63

17

2

 

Whole grain items

7

47

41

5

 

Soy products

20

33

9

38

 

Fish

12

48

31

10

 

Red meat

24

59

11

5

 

Poultry

5

54

38

3

 

Organic foods

15

42

17

27

 

Note: Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

 
         

TABLE 3B
CHANGE IN EATING HABITS
“In the last few months, would you say that you have been eating or drinking more or less of the following items?”
Summary of those who are obese

Base: All adults

 

Less

Neither more nor less

More

Not applicable

 

%

%

%

%

 

Yogurt

16

37

24

22

 

Snack bars

27

43

11

20

 

Fresh fruit

6

41

49

4

 

Raw vegetables

8

55

31

6

 

Fruit juice

15

47

28

10

 

Cheese

15

71

12

2

 

White bread

38

44

6

11

 

Soda

35

43

12

10

 

Diet beverages

21

37

16

26

 

Processed foods

35

53

6

6

 

Processed meats

38

47

6

9

 

Nuts

16

52

22

10

 

Pasta

17

67

13

3

 

Whole grain items

7

47

38

8

 

Soy products

20

31

5

43

 

Fish

8

51

30

11

 

Red meat

27

61

8

4

 

Poultry

7

54

37

2

 

Organic foods

14

38

16

31

 
 
         

TABLE 3C
CHANGE IN EATING HABITS
“In the last few months, would you say that you have been eating or drinking more or less of the following items?”
Summary of those who are morbidly obese

Base: All adults

 

Less

Neither more nor less

More

Not applicable

 

%

%

%

%

 

Yogurt

17

39

30

15

 

Snack bars

33

40

12

15

 

Fresh fruit

10

39

49

1

 

Raw vegetables

9

51

36

4

 

Fruit juice

15

57

20

8

 

Cheese

10

67

20

2

 

White bread

43

39

6

13

 

Soda

35

38

16

11

 

Diet beverages

21

29

25

25

 

Processed foods

36

51

8

5

 

Processed meats

33

51

8

9

 

Nuts

15

49

34

2

 

Pasta

25

54

19

2

 

Whole grain items

6

48

41

5

 

Soy products

24

42

5

30

 

Fish

13

51

27

9

 

Red meat

18

62

17

4

 

Poultry

3

49

45

2

 

Organic foods

23

40

12

25

 
 
         

TABLE 4
MANAGING DIET AND WEIGHT
“When thinking about how you manage your diet and/or weight, how important are each of the following to you?”

Base: All adults

 

Very/ Somewhat important (NET)

Very important

Somewhat important

Not very/ Not at all important (NET)

Not very important

Not at all important

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

 

Fat

78

39

39

22

15

7

 

Whole grain

78

39

39

22

15

7

 

Protein

77

39

38

23

16

7

 

Calories

74

33

41

26

19

7

 

Saturated fat

74

39

35

26

17

10

 

Sugar

72

37

36

28

20

8

 

Sodium

67

31

36

33

23

10

 

Carbohydrates

65

27

38

35

26

9

 

Hydrogenated oil

61

27

34

39

27

12

 

Note: Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

 
             

TABLE 5
PERSONAL ATTITUDE AND BMI SCORE
“Thinking about your current weight, if you had to choose, would you describe yourself as…?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

BMI

 

Normal weight

Over-weight

Obese

Morbidly obese

 

%

%

%

%

%

 

Underweight or too thin

3

7

*

*

*

 

About right

24

52

20

4

1

 

A few extra pounds

25

31

35

13

6

 

Heavier than I should be but generally healthy and content

32

10

41

55

30

 

Much heavier than I should be, or obese

14

*

3

26

61

 

Decline to answer

2

*

*

2

*

 

Note: Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

 
           

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between September 14 to 20, 2010 among 2,620 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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