A New Public Enemy, Bad Reputations, Etc.

Get ready for the assault on Big Salt. Sodium looks destined to join the top ranks of public-health menaces now that the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has taken aim at it. A new report by the organization, which advises the federal government on its recommendations for daily intake of various nutrients, proposes cutting the figure for sodium down to 1,500 milligrams per day from the current 2,400 mg. As The Washington Post notes in an article on the study, the catch is that many Americans aren’t close to hitting the more permissive target. In fact, “studies show the average person eats more than 4,000 milligrams a day, three-quarters of it from restaurant meals and common processed foods like spaghetti sauce and frozen dinners.” Excessive salt intake is associated with high blood pressure. If adopted, the new standard would eventually be reflected in the labels on packaged foods. For food companies, the one saving grace is that there’s no evidence we’re at risk from “passive sodium” when we sit next to someone who’s eating a salty food. Still, it’ll be a surprise if the topic doesn’t come to engage the attentions of assorted activists and class-action lawyers. After all, the health risks of a high-sodium diet are distributed much more widely throughout the population than those of tobacco or alcohol. And children—helpless little children!—are getting hooked on salty snack foods every day.

Here’s a reason why consumer spending has held up well in an otherwise lackluster economy: People are pleased with the goods and services they’re getting. The University of Michigan Business School’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) stands at its highest level since 1995, “continuing a strong two-year upward trend in how people evaluate the quality of goods and services on which they spend their money.” Since consumers are so pleased with what corporate America is selling, can we infer that they also think well of corporations? Actually, no. It’s intriguing that the satisfaction boom coincides with a sharp decline in trust in corporations. In the latest of a series of annual surveys by Harris Interactive and the Reputation Institute, 74 percent of adults “continue to characterize corporate America’s reputation as either ‘not good’ or ‘terrible.’ ” Companies whose “reputation quotient” fell from the previous year outnumbered those whose reputation rose, by more than two to one. The likely moral in all this for advertisers: Emphasize the brand, de-emphasize its corporate owner.

grownups believe teens are helpless pawns of peer pressure. Maybe that’s why it’s a point of pride among the teens to deny they suffer any such susceptibility. In a poll by Blue Fusion, 12-20-year-olds were asked how much influence “friends and peer pressure” have on their purchase decisions. Forty-six percent said “none”; an equal number said “a small role.” Just 8 percent said friends and peers play “a big role” in influencing what they buy.

You know you live in a religious nation when even non-religious people believe in Biblical lore. In an ABC News poll, 61 percent of adults said they think it’s “literally true” that God created the Earth in six days. Sixty percent said the same of the Noah’s ark story; 64 percent said it’s literally true that Moses parted the Red Sea. Given the high incidence of religious practice in the U.S., these figures aren’t startling. What’s notable is that these beliefs are held by many people who don’t affiliate themselves with a religion. Thirty-two percent of those who profess no religion nonetheless believe Moses parted the Red Sea; 29 percent believe in Noah and his ark; 24 percent believe in Creation with a capital C.

Since love is a many-splendored thing, it stands to reason that the incidence of love varies among different demographic cohorts. Even so, some of the results of a recent Gallup poll are striking. The biggest gap was between the married and unmarried respondents, with 98 percent of the former and 41 percent of the latter saying they’re now in love with someone. (If the number for married people seems high, given the divorce rate, note that the poll didn’t ask them whether they’re in love with their spouses.) The married-vs.-unmarried numbers are consistent with the differences among age groups: The in-love rate peaks among the 30- to 49-year-olds (83 percent) and dips just a bit among the 50-64s (78 percent). It’s markedly lower among the 18-29s (67 percent) and the 65-and-overs (51 percent). Seventy-seven percent of men said they’re in love, vs. 68 percent of women—a gap that may stem partly from the fact that widows outnumber widowers. Republicans were more likely to be in love than Democrats (75 percent vs. 69 percent), with independents suitably falling in between (73 percent). Respondents in the East (69 percent) and the Midwest (70 percent) were less likely to say they’re in love than those in the South (75 percent) and the West (76 percent).

That’s one frazzled workforce. In a poll conducted for the Hilton Family of Hotels by Harris Interactive, 34 percent of employed adults subscribed to the statement, “It often feels like I live to work rather than work to live.” Eight of 10 rated their stress level at work as “high” (32 percent) or “medium” (50 percent). A number of factors contribute to this mood. Nineteen percent of respondents “strongly agree” that they bring more work home than they did five years ago; 13 percent “can’t stop thinking about work even when I’m on vacation”; 11 percent phone into the office when vacationing. Many look askance at the muscular American work ethic: The number who think it’s a positive force in our culture (33 percent) is nearly matched by the number who find its impact negative (31 percent). As you can see from the chart, all of this takes a toll on the way workers feel when they go back to the salt mines after their weekly days off—assuming they get any days off.