Evil Drug Companies, Expanding Ideals, Etc.

Incoherence seems to be a side effect of hostility to the pharmaceutical industry. It’s an article of faith for many Americans that drug companies are demonically greedy. And yet, people also believe the companies would toil just as hard to develop new products if their profits were slashed. Consider some findings of a Kaiser Family Foundation study that examined public attitudes toward Big Pharma. Sixty-nine percent of respondents think prescription medicines would be “more affordable” if laws allowed their importation from Canada. But just 25 percent believe such a move would prompt U.S. drug companies to do less research and development—even though the whole point of importation is to shift money from companies to consumers. Similarly, 54 percent feel that if the feds used their buying power to negotiate lower prescription-drug prices for Medicare recipients, it would mean “government price controls” on those products. But just 29 percent think drug companies would do less R&D as a result. Do people think soft-drink companies or soap makers would keep investing as much in product development if their profits were curtailed? Unlikely. Yet, they seem to believe the pharmaceutical industry would do just that. Perhaps while accusing the companies of being uniquely greedy, Americans suspect them of being closet altruists.

It’s temptation time. A poll by Universal McCann asked mothers of young kids to cite the times of day when they’re most likely to eat things they shouldn’t. The main culprits: mid-afternoon and late evening. Eighty-two percent said they find it “very” or “somewhat” difficult to eat right in mid-afternoon, the highest combined total for any day part. Late evening drew the highest “very difficult” vote (25 percent). Clearly, people should take afternoon naps and go to bed right after dinner so they’ll avoid these desperate hours.

When people read the nutrition labels on packaged foods, are they focusing on a particular health issue or on the product’s overall healthfulness? Polling by Mintel found seekers of general information outnumbering single-issue label readers by more than two to one. The conclusion the research firm draws: “Clearly, end-products that offer general benefits have wider appeal than those that offer only one benefit.” Two-thirds of respondents make purchase decisions based on the amount of fat, vitamins/minerals, sugar and calories in a product. Half are swayed by salt, artificial sweetener and carbohydrates. In a separate report, Mintel notes a decline late in 2004 in low-carb product introductions. It predicts a further drop this year as interest shifts “toward products that focus on glycemic index (or glycemic load) and products that specifically mention low-sugar claims.”

Polls always find Americans are happy folks. But what are they happy about? A new survey by Time gives some indication. When asked, “What one thing in your life has brought you the greatest happiness?” a plurality of respondents (35 percent) cited “children/ grandchildren.” Also winning votes on the domestic front were “spouse” (9 percent) and “marriage” (5 percent), while the catch-all “family” got 17 percent. Eleven percent said “God/faith/religion” is their chief source of happiness. If your job is what makes you most happy, you’re in a small minority: Three percent of respondents picked “career.” Asked specifically whether they get more satisfaction from job/career or from “personal life,” people picked the latter over the former by 75 percent to 13 percent. Elsewhere in the poll, respondents were asked to say whether these and other factors are a “major” or “minor” source of happiness in their lives. The highest “major source” votes went to “your relationship with children” (77 percent), “your friends and friendship” (76 percent), “contributing to the lives of others” (75 percent) and “relationship with spouse/partner or your love life in general” (73 percent). “Physical or sexual pleasure” was cited by a non-landslide 49 percent. What do people do when they want to improve their mood “or just want to feel happier?” Atop the list of things they “often” try are “talk to a friend/ family” (cited by 56 percent), “listen to music” (54 percent), “pray or meditate” (45 percent), “help others in need” (42 percent) and “take a bath or shower” (41 percent). Farther down the list: “eat” (25 percent), “have sex” (21 percent), “shop” (17 percent) and “have a drink of an alcoholic beverage” (8 percent).

Simple observation tells us what’s been happening to Americans’ actual weight. But what about people’s “ideal weight” as they define it for themselves? That’s been rising, too. In the latest Gallup poll on the subject (see the chart), the average ideal weight for men is 178 pounds; for women, it’s 136 pounds. By comparison, the average ideal weights in a 1990 Gallup poll were 171 for men and 129 for women. Despite this upward creep, men now average 12.7 pounds above their ideal figure and women average 20.4 pounds above it. “Moreover, if all Americans reached what they identify as their ‘ideal’ weight, 36 percent would still be carrying too many pounds, including 2 percent who would be classified as obese.” This adds to the impression we’ve gotten over the years that increasing numbers of Americans have given up on trying to reach what the health experts would consider a suitable weight. And as Gallup points out, while large numbers of men and women claim they’d like to lose weight, just 23 percent of men and 34 percent of women are “seriously trying” to do so.