Blaming Reluctance More Than Ignorance

It’s a handy excuse: People are overweight because they’ve been confused by conflicting expert opinions about nutrition and exercise. This semi-comforting notion does not hold up under scrutiny, though. An ACNielsen poll finds a consensus among Americans about how they can control their weight, as well as a successful track record among people who take their own sound advice. One example: 65 percent of adults believe that “reducing frequency of eating junk food” is a useful way of keeping weight in check (gee, ya think?), and 86 percent of those who have tried this method have found it effective. Similarly, 60 percent think that “reducing meal sizes” will help them control their weight, and 86 percent of those who’ve done this have found it works for them. Sixty-one percent think their waistlines would benefit if they substituted water for sugared drinks and juices, and 85 percent of those who’ve tried it have found it effective. The numbers are similar when it comes to adopting or intensifying an exercise regime.

If they’re reluctant to give up favorite foods, Americans could at least try to burn off the calories. However, a separate poll, by Rasmussen Reports, indicates that many are resolutely inert. Asked how important exercise is in their lives, just 31 percent of adults said it’s “very important,” with 38 percent saying it’s “somewhat” so. (In this context, “somewhat” is a suspiciously tepid word.) Eighteen percent said it’s “not very important” to them and 5 percent “not at all important.” As you can see from the chart below, people who exercise more days than not are in the minority. And it’s not as if we’re talking about herculean workouts. Among those who do exercise, 58 percent spend from 15 to 45 minutes in a typical session. Seventeen percent put in less than 15 minutes. Eleven percent exercise for an hour or more per session.