Americans More Likely to Choose Healthy Eating Over Exercise

Feb. 1, 2007
Cooking Light survey finds Americans more knowledgeable about nutrition and health but less inclined to exercise.

Americans are more knowledgeable about nutrition and have started eating healthier over the past 12 months, according to a new study. That's good news in a country where nearly one-third of adults are obese and 64.5 percent of us are considered overweight.

What do you find completely or somewhat motivating?

Physical appearance 68%
Increased energy 66%
Losing or maintaining weight 66%
Physical fitness 63%
Preventing serious health problems now or in the future 63%

Source: Cooking Light

But all the news isn't good. Even as Americans make efforts to improve their diet, exercise seems to have fallen by the wayside, finds the RoperASW study of 1,072 adults, commissioned by Cooking Light and taken Sept. 12-Oct. 10 of 2006.

Despite nearly half (47 percent) of Americans feeling satisfied with their physical fitness, only 6 percent get 30 minutes of exercise a day - the amount recommended by the USDA. A majority of respondents (54 percent) struggle to exercise regularly today versus 33 percent in 2003 (the time of the previous study).

Using simple techniques to physically enhance exercise also has seen a decline. Only 19 percent walk or bike instead of taking transportation (versus 39 percent in 2003); 41 percent take the stairs whenever possible (versus 49 percent); and 33 percent regularly park their cars farther from their destination to get in extra walking, up only 1 percent.

Some 70 percent believe they understand enough about nutrition and health to make healthful eating decisions - and many have traded in bad habits for more healthful ones. Comparing responses to those in 2003, 70 percent drink lower-fat milk instead of whole milk (versus 52 percent); 59 percent eat chicken with the skin off (versus 41 percent); 54 percent take vitamins (versus 37 percent); 52 percent use lower fat alternatives when cooking (versus 44 percent); and 51 percent read nutrition labels on food (versus 43 percent).

Americans today are much more likely than in 2003 to feel they can balance healthy eating without sacrificing their favorite foods (48 percent, up from 28 percent).

However, no more than four in 10 respondents feel they currently understand the potential health benefits or drawbacks of specific food ingredients very well. Americans choose foods based on fat content and fat type, though other factors have comparatively little influence, such as whether food is natural or organic, antioxidant-rich, containing whole grains or high in soy content. In addition, when it comes to making healthy choices, getting a balanced diet is of consequence for only two out of five Americans.

Category percentage very or somewhat satisfied

Mental or emotional well-being 76%
Blood pressure 76%
Health overall  70%
Cholesterol level 62%
Stress level 58%
Physical fitness 47%
Body weight  45%

Source: Cooking Light


Today, 89 percent of American adults say they are knowledgeable about what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle, but their health IQ demonstrates this is more fiction than reality. When asked 15 questions about healthy living, most respondents get an F - mainly as a result of getting questions on exercise and physical fitness wrong.

In fact, only 1 percent get an A; 6 percent get a B; 8 percent get a C; 30 percent get a D; and 52 percent fail.

While Americans are stumped on questions about exercise and physical fitness, they have a better handle on food and diet information. But less than half (45 percent) know that in order to lose one pound, you must burn 3,500 calories more than you eat. Nearly nine in 10 (86 percent) feel the USDA recommends 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity three to four days a week, when in actuality the USDA recommends 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day. Alternatively, eight in 10 (81 percent) understand that fatty acids, like those found in fish, are healthy for you, while seven in 10 (71 percent) know that fruit yogurt is not always a low-calorie food.

"This research offers us important insight into where Americans are going wrong in their quest for good health," says Cooking Light Research Director Mary Beth Burner. "People don't seem to understand that overall health is a two-part equation: exercise and proper diet."

Tell that to critics of the food industry.

Making progress affects overall outlook

Health and personal well-being often fall victim to the "domino effect," meaning that slacking in one area can lead to repercussions in many others. But the respondents to the Cooking Light/RoperASW survey also believe small improvements over time can have positive effects.

Three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) recognize that making small, healthy improvements in lifestyle today can lead to big benefits later on. That attitude extends beyond health, and most Americans have started various activities to better themselves. Over the past 12 months: 58 percent eat better; 57 percent are paying off debt (the activity they made the most progress in); 56 percent spend more time with people they care about; 52 percent spend more time with family and friends; and 52 are organizing their home.

Making real progress in one particular area has greatly improved their overall outlook on life - 20 percent say a lot, 84 percent say at least a little - and 39 percent agree that making progress in one area of life helps them to start making progress in others.

Health is no exception. On average, Americans find satisfaction in their physical and mental health, and also see physical fitness and appearance as motivators for achieving a healthful lifestyle.

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