As we waddle through the gluttonous part of the year (from Thanksgiving turkey to New Year's ham), a Gallup poll serves up some unappetizing food for thought about Americans' weight. It's not just that a majority of adults are too heavy. They're also resistant to acknowledging this fact.
To the extent there's good news in the poll, it lies in the fact that average body weight has been largely stable during the past few years. It now stands at 193 pounds for men (vs. 191 last year) and 154 pounds for women (vs. 156 last year). But the figures are up sharply from 1990 (itself scarcely a heyday of American svelteness), when average weights were 180 for men and 142 for women. Taking the current respondents' self-reported heights and weights, Gallup calculated their body mass index (BMI). By this measure, 21 percent were obese, 36 percent overweight, 32 percent of normal weight and 7 percent underweight. When asked for self-description, though, just 5 percent of respondents classified themselves as "very overweight." Another 37 percent said they're "somewhat overweight," 53 percent "about right" and 5 percent "underweight."
While women often seem obsessed by weight, men are in denial about it. Forty-one percent of men and 44 percent of women said they weigh too much. But Gallup's BMI arithmetic found that 70 percent of men are overweight or obese, vs. 44 percent of women. Women were somewhat more likely than men (30 percent vs. 23 percent) to say they're trying to lose weight right now. Just 8 percent of men worry about their weight all the time, while 31 percent never worry about it; 20 percent of women worry about it all the time, while 15 percent never do.
You can't say Americans haven't at least tried to shed pounds. When Gallup's 1990 poll asked people how often they'd "seriously" tried to lose weight, the responses averaged out to 4.0. In the new poll, respondents had made an average of 7.3 serious attempts. There's also been a decline in the number of adults who never seriously tried to lose weight—44 percent in 1990, 34 percent now. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the number of people who've made a serious effort to lose weight at least 11 times has more than doubled, from 5 percent then to 11 percent now. There's also been a rise in the number who've made from three to 10 serious weight-loss efforts (18 percent then, 28 percent now). Thus, the country is now chock-full of veteran dieters—many of whom, we can surmise, have already tried the obvious regimens (and, in the long run, failed with them). It stands to reason, then, that there's a big market for the more exotic diets.