Our Solitary Eaters, Bored Teenagers, Etc.

Man is a social being, but not always a social eater. A 10-nation study by Ipsos World Monitor finds 46 percent of American adults saying they eat a meal by themselves either every day or most days. By comparison, 25 percent of respondents in Italy said the same, as did 33 percent in Russia, 36 percent in the U.K. and 40 percent in Germany. The disparity reflects Americans’ predilection for eating away from home. Thirty-two percent eat at a restaurant at least a few days a week; 25 percent eat that often while in transit from place to place. Indeed, the report scoffs at the idea that Americans’ post-9/11 eating habits are marked by “nesting and comfort tendencies”: “In reality, we’re eating more in our cars than by candlelight.”

Elsewhere on the dietary front, the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes an increase in the share of vegetables consumed outside the home. In 2000-2002, Americans consumed 25 percent more vegetables per capita per year (445 pounds) than they did in 1980-1982. As the USDA notes in its Amber Waves magazine, half of that increase stems from the general rise in out-of-home eating. It’s not that consumers are grazing on leafy greens. “Processed potatoes (largely french fries and chips) accounted for 27 percent of the growth in total vegetable consumption since 1980-’82.” Fast-food outlets, which serve three-fourths of the french fries eaten outside the home, are a major factor in this trend. Fast-feeders also account for a rising share of tomato consumption. “Although most tomato products are consumed at home, about 15 percent of tomatoes are processed into catsup, of which one-third is consumed outside the home with fast foods.” At least 30 percent of onions, garlic, mushrooms and peppers are also eaten outside the home.

It’s often noted that Americans are more religious than people in other rich countries. A less-noted corollary is that religious tolerance has a special prominence in the U.S. There’s grassroots agreement that it’s bad form to think ill of someone else’s religion. In recent years, moreover, the notion that we ought not judge the way other people worship has grown into a broader reluctance to assert that any one set of values deserves primacy over any other. Especially among young folks, the word “judgmental” is now a grave insult. There’s reason to wonder if this is changing, though. Prompted by 9/11 and other instances of Islamist terrorism, Americans have come to take an increasingly dim view of Islam itself. In a new ABCNews poll, fewer than half the respondents (46 percent) called Islam a “peaceful religion.” They weren’t looking askance solely at Islam’s radical fringe: 34 percent think “mainstream Islam” encourages violence, vs. 23 percent in October 2002 and 14 percent in January 2002. Does this mean Americans are becoming intolerant of religions other than their own? Actually, the story is more complicated. Respondents are wary of Islam partly because they see it as a force for intolerance. Just 25 percent said Islam teaches “respect for non-Muslim beliefs”; 41 percent said so when the poll specified “mainstream Islam.” What does this portend for our civic religion of non-judgmental tolerance? Once the taboo has been broken about criticizing others’ religions, people may start to rethink the whole who-am-I-to-judge mentality that is its secular counterpart.

Hurrah for banks! A poll by the American Bankers Association finds 69 percent of banks expect to increase their marketing budgets next year. Among those anticipating higher spending, budgets are expected to climb by 7 percent on average. Efforts aimed at specific ethnic groups are giving impetus to the overall budget increases. Fifty percent of banks that currently target ethnic groups plan to boost their ad spending next year.

Now here’s shocking news: Ice cream is more popular than frozen vegetables. In a BIGresearch study of the frozen-foods sector, 96 percent of respondents said they buy ice cream at least occasionally. That compares with 82 percent who buy frozen vegetables. Frozen dinner entrees (87 percent), frozen turkey/chicken (86 percent) and frozen pizza (84 percent) fill out the top five. People don’t necessarily scrape the frost off the package to make sure they’re getting a national brand. Just 15 percent of consumers said they never buy store brands of frozen foods.

Sticks and stones may or may not be the culprit, but something is breaking the bones of more adolescent boys and girls. Looking at the forearm fracture rates among young people in 1969-1971 and again in 1999-2001, research by the Mayo Clinic finds a 42 percent increase over that span. Living up to their reputation as hellions, 12-year-old boys had the highest fracture rate, at 1.5 percent per year. The data suggest that kids are not couch potatoes after all. “The incidence of fractures associated with recreational activities almost doubled,” says the clinic’s summary of its findings. “This category included both team sports such as baseball and football, and individual sports such as skating and roller-blading.” On the other hand, the researchers express concern that the rise in fractures may also stem in part from kids’ tendency to drink soft drinks rather than bone-friendly milk.

When you think of the stereotypical bored teenager, you likely form a mental picture of a kid dozing as a teacher drones on. However, polling conducted for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse suggests that you’d be giving the educational system a bad rap (see the chart below). The survey also asked students in the 12-17 age bracket how often they feel bored. In addition to the 9 percent who said “never,” 25 percent said “rarely.” But these live wires were outnumbered by the kids who are bored “often” (17 percent) or “occasionally” (49 percent).