Mixed Blessings

It’s the great nutritional paradox: Americans are willing—nay, eager!—to eat tons of unambiguously lethal foods. But many remain reluctant to eat genetically modified (GM) foods, notwithstanding the absence of reliable evidence that such food is unhealthy. In an ABCNews poll on the topic, 46 percent of respondents said they regard GM foods as unsafe; an equal percentage said GM foods are safe. Ninety-two percent favor mandatory labeling of foods to disclose GM content. And if foods were so labeled, 55 percent of those polled said they would avoid buying them. Conversely, 51 percent are favorably disposed toward foods whose labels indicate they’re free of GM content. There’s a large gender gap in attitudes about such foods: 56 percent of men think they’re safe, vs. 37 percent of women. (Feel free to formulate your own generalizations about men’s greater openness to science and progress.) More’s the pity for marketers of GM foods, since women still do a disproportionate share of grocery shopping.

If Fido’s hoping for a doggy bag when his owners go to a restaurant, he’s probably out of luck. In a study by the American Institute for Cancer Research, 27 percent of respondents said they finish their entrees every time when dining at a table-service restaurant. Another 42 percent join the Clean Your Plate Club most of the time. That’s a problem, the report notes, because restaurant portions have been getting huge. Consumers have been too busy chowing down to notice, though: Just 38 percent said they’re aware of “portion creep” at restaurants.

Good news for the aspirin business: Americans are more likely to get stress or tension headaches than was the case five years ago. In a poll by the National Consumers League, eight in 10 adults said they have “problems or stress in their lives.” Among the stressed 18- to 34-year-olds, 64 percent said they’ve become more susceptible to such headaches. It wouldn’t hurt if they got some more rest. Elsewhere in the same survey, 68 percent of stressed respondents age 18-44 said they don’t get enough sleep, vs. 52 percent of the 45-64s and 36 percent of those 65 and older. Men are more likely than women to regard work as the primary source of stress in their lives (48 percent vs. 32 percent); women are more likely than men to say they’re mainly stressed by family (37 percent vs. 21 percent).

Who’d have guessed: It turns out that virtue is rewarded. “Companies perceived as trusting, compassionate and high in integrity perform better and have higher profits than less virtuous firms—even when downsizing,” says a study by the University of Michigan Business School. The researchers found several factors at work. For one, virtuous companies do a better job of holding onto their customers: “Customers are more effectively serviced and are more loyal to the organization when employees encounter positive experience at work, such as caring, empowerment and various forms of virtuousness.” Virtuous companies are also more likely to be innovative. Why? Because their goodness evokes “inspiration, awe, gratitude and other positive emotions” in the employees, which in turn makes these staffers more open to “new ideas and information.”

Let’s blame it on Dr. Spock! When baby boomers were babies, their parents were urged to feed them on demand. Boomers have been feeding themselves on demand ever since. And they’re now plump in the middle of the obesity epidemic. Gallup polling finds boomers more likely than young or old Americans to admit they’re overweight. According to a Gallup Tuesday Briefing, 53 percent of those age 39-57 are very or somewhat overweight. That compares with 30 percent of those age 18-38 and 30 percent of those 75-plus. The only age group with a higher incidence of paunchiness than the boomers is the 58-74s, among whom 56 percent are overweight. While boomers grew up (and out) along with the fast-food business, few Americans believe this industry should pay for the obesity of its avid patrons. In another Gallup poll, just 9 percent of respondents favored holding Big Fast Food “legally responsible” for its customers’ diet-related ills. It’s not as if people are under any illusions about the food. One percent said most of the food served in fast-food outlets is “very good for you,” with another 22 percent saying it’s “fairly good for you.” Three-fourths said such food is either “not too good for you” (53 percent) or “not good at all for you” (23 percent). Still, the flesh is weak: Half of those giving the food a negative rating said they go to a fast-food restaurant at least once a week.

Consumers are more cautious about spending, but their caution is distributed unevenly across product sectors. According to a forecast by BIGresearch, spending in the next 90 days will rise for shoes and children’s clothing. It will be flat for electronics, decorative home furnishings and men’s dress clothes. And spending is expected to drop for women’s clothing (whether dress or casual), men’s casual clothes, health & beauty aids, dining out, sporting goods, toys and games, home furniture and groceries. In the 30 days before being questioned, respondents were more likely to have deferred spending for restaurant meals and entertainment than for electronics and home improvement.

Strong, greedy, arrogant, deceitful. Does this combination of attributes (see the chart below) sound familiar? That’s right—it describes the guys who the prettiest girls in high school went out with! Looking at the RoperASW survey data in that light helps us understand why corporations prosper even while consumers routinely badmouth them. We may not like or respect big companies, but we’re attracted to them nonetheless.