Why We Watch What We Eat

The evidence of their waistlines notwithstanding, 42 percent of American adults claim to be “controlling” their diets. A poll by Mediamark Research & Intelligence finds many (especially men) do so for reasons other than weight loss. Forty-one percent of men and 36 percent of women are controlling their diets for health reasons; 39 percent of women and 29 percent of men are doing it to lose weight. Equal numbers of men and women (27 percent each) are controlling their diets to maintain their current weight. Men are more likely than women to be doing it for the sake of “physical fitness” (25 percent vs. 20 percent).

In a breakdown by age, 25-34-year-olds were the most likely to control their diets to lose weight. Those 55 and older were the most likely to be motivated by such health factors as blood sugar and cholesterol levels. People 65-plus were the least likely to regulate their diet to lose weight but the most likely to control it to maintain their current weight. Household income is a dividing line as well. Thirty-nine percent of respondents in the $75,000-plus bracket said they control their diets to lose weight, vs. 31 percent of those in the under-$50,000 cohort.

A separate study gives a taste of how hard it can be to change one’s diet. As summarized on the HealthScout Web site, research led by the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester found that people who’d survived a heart attack were unlikely to have cleaned up their dietary act a year later. Just 5 percent were holding their intake of trans fats down to recommended levels; 8 percent were getting the recommended number of daily servings of fruit; 8 percent were getting a “heart-healthy amount of cereal fiber”; 12 percent were eating the recommended servings of vegetables. If a heart attack is a wake-up call, as is often said, it seems many people prefer to hit the snooze button.