Mark Dolliver’s Takes: Mixed Blessings

Should old resolutions be forgot? Every year, Americans resolve to lose weight. A report by The NPD Group scoffs—scoffs!—at such vows. It tells of “a huge disconnect between what people say and what they actually do when it comes to their weight and eating habits.” While 63 percent of adults now say they want to shed at least 20 pounds (vs.52 percent saying so in 1990), just one-third of women and one-fifth of men are dieting. Even fewer—about one-tenth of adults—engage in aerobic activity, swimming or running on a regular basis. Even among people who ease up on the feedbag, serious dieting tends not to begin until March, when the specter of bathing-suit season has begun to haunt them. Under the circumstances, we needn’t be surprised that Americans “are more accepting of overweight people.” The report says 76 percent of adults now say it’s “OK to be overweight,” compared to 45 percent in a 1985 poll.

Maybe automakers should concoct a device that injects caffeine into sleepy drivers. In a study by the National Sleep Foundation, 51 percent of adults admitted to driving while drowsy during the past year. Men are more likely than women to have done so(56 percent vs. 45 percent). Youthful stamina notwithstanding, 18-29-year-olds are more likely to have been sleepy at the wheel than 30-64-year-olds (71 percent vs. 52 percent). Seventeen percent of drivers said they’ve fallen asleep at the wheel during the past year. So much for all those car commercials that blather about the thrill of driving.

Americans find it harder to concur on a favorite woman than a favorite man. That’s the case, anyhow, in a couple of surveys fielded last month. In Gallup’s annual poll to determine the year’s most admired man, the top five choices (led by George W. Bush) garnered a collective 47 percent of the vote. In polling for 2002’s most admired woman, the top five picks (led by Hillary Clinton) won 25 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, in an annual Harris Poll to pick America’s favorite movie star, eight of the top 10 vote-getters were men (led by Tom Hanks). Julia Roberts (No. 3) and Sandra Bullock (No. 10) were the only women among the 10 big-screen faves.

One wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re in the era of Orthotics Chic. Still, a recent article in The Washington Post suggests the image of orthotics may be changing, just as vast numbers of creaky-limbed baby boomers become natural candidates for the shoe inserts. It seems increasing numbers of professional athletes (including Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal) have begun using the devices to ease the wear and tear on their bodies. “Although orthotic supports may conjure up images of mall-walking grandmothers and off-the-rack Dr. Scholl’s products, they’re as likely to be found in pro teams’ locker rooms as in retirement community clubhouses,” says the article. Can it be long before we start seeing image-intensive orthotic brands that flaunt their superstar endorsements?

Having duly reviewed the seasonal mail sent to Takes last month (and thanks for it all!), we hereby confer Oddest Holiday Missivehonors on Meyer & Wallis of Milwaukee and Indianapolis. In lieu of an ordinary card, the agency sent a cookbook titled “Snowy Day Side Dishes for Simple Adfolk,” written by The Meyer & Wallis Ladies Auxiliary. Rest assured that we’ll be whipping up plenty of Aunt Maggie’s Potato Dumplings and Broccoli-Cauliflower Bake here in the Takes Test Kitchens in 2003.

Let’s hope women are less prescient than men. In the chart below, which excerpts a Los Angeles Times poll conducted last month, you’ll see that men are far more likely than women to see the economy righting itself in the near future. Does this reflect a gender gap in opinions about current conditions? Not really. When respondents were asked whether the economy is now in recession, there was little difference in the number of men (62 percent) and women (59 percent) saying it is. Women were more likely than men to describe their own finances these days as “shaky,” but the disparity on this question was fairly modest (35 percent of women, 30 percent of men). In looking ahead, though, it seems that men are more apt to let their hopes shape their judgment, while women tend to be guided by the sad experience of the present.