Toops Scoops: Conflicted, confused and challenged

Appearance is the primary reason given for living a healthy lifestyle

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By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

Obliterating obesity in America may be the media's cause du jour. However, according to a survey commissioned by Cooking Light, a surprising majority (74 percent) of respondents say they're satisfied with their overall health, and about half say they're satisfied with their body weight and physical fitness.

But respondents to the RoperASW survey of 1,172 adults seem conflicted about what they perceive as a healthy lifestyle vs. their actual behavior, confused about what defines healthy choices and challenged to achieve a healthy balance.

"There's a disconnect between what some Americans know to be right and what they are actually doing in their daily lives," says Mary Kay Culpepper, editor of Cooking Light.

A health-related lifestyle is a priority among 53 percent of respondents, and 48 percent say they're living a healthier lifestyle today than five years ago. While seven in 10 say they believe small health-related improvements in their lifestyle today can lead to big benefits later on, fewer than half follow this ideology, and the majority is not any more involved in healthier activities than they were five years ago. Although 62 percent say they exercise at least once a week, only 44 percent work out three or more times a week.

Physical appearance (66 percent) was cited as the primary reason for living a healthy lifestyle, followed by prevention of serious health problems in the future (65 percent), weight control/diet (64 percent), physical fitness (59 percent) and increased energy level (59 percent).

Living a healthy lifestyle comes naturally to only 20 percent of respondents; the majority says it's moderately to very difficult to achieve. They agree there's too much conflicting information about which foods are healthy and which ones aren't (53 percent), and only 47 percent say they know enough about nutrition and health to make healthful eating decisions.

On a positive note, 50 percent say they eat healthier foods than they did five years ago, 46 percent drink more water, 38 percent pay attention to health issues in the news, 37 percent take more time to relax and 34 percent take precautionary measures to protect themselves against the sun. But only 29 percent moderate their intake of calories, fat and carbohydrates more than they did five years ago.

"It seems the majority of Americans have difficulty following through," says Mary Beth Burner, Cooking Light research director. "What we can learn from more healthful individuals can begin to make a difference with others."

The magazine says there are four basic consumer orientations to healthful behavior:

* Balancers (24 percent) have truly "found their balance," and very likely give a healthy lifestyle a high priority. Nearly all believe that small healthy improvements in their lifestyle today can lead to big benefits later.

* Bargainers (22 percent) live a healthy lifestyle, but look at attaining health as an equation , trading fitness for food indulgences. They believe the more they exercise, the more they can eat , which is what they want. They embody the right behavior, but struggle with balance.

* Avoiders (29 percent) are generally not focused on a healthy lifestyle and avoid healthful behaviors. Although 37 percent of this group makes living a healthy lifestyle a priority, 38 percent find it difficult to do, and 42 percent say they don't pay attention to news about what's bad for health.

* Pretenders (25 percent) describe themselves as more health-conscious (78 percent), yet 83 percent snack even when not hungry, 74 percent eat for emotional reasons and half say they often overeat when stressed or depressed. Only 28 percent say living a healthy lifestyle is a priority for them and 42 percent find it difficult to do.

"No time in our history is more pivotal than right now for understanding public attitudes and actions when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle," says Burner. "It's imperative that we discern the differences in behaviors and attitudes of those that are actively living healthy lives and those who are not, in order to bridge the gap between the two groups. By better understanding the dichotomy that exists, we can make necessary progress in consumer education, food development and marketing."

E-mail Diane at dtoops@putman.net.

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