Poll Indicates Adult Consumers Need More than Knowledge to Curb Obesity

Nov. 15, 2010
Behavior-changing knowledge alone is not enough to curb obesity, a poll seems to indicate.

A new Harris Poll of 2,620 adult consumers finds large numbers claim to be changing the foods and drinks they consume. Many of these changes are in line with expert guidance, such as eating more fruit, whole grains and vegetables, and consuming less soda, white bread and processed food.

This poll, conducted online between Sept. 14 and 20, analyzed replies by Americans' body mass index, showing the differences between those who are of normal weight and those who are overweight, obese or morbidly obese. Responses suggest many of these replies reflect wishful thinking and public knowledge of what people think they should be doing, rather than actual changes in behavior.

Notable findings include: Majorities of all groups claim they frequently or somewhat often eat healthier at home compared to when dining out (79 percent), drink water as opposed to another type of beverage at meals (74 percent), choose healthy snacks (72 percent), eat a balanced diet (72 percent), read nutritional information on packaged food products before buying it (68 percent), attempt to eat smaller portions (64 percent) and exercise regularly (57 percent).

Click on chart to download a PDF of the full chart

Most of those considered obese or even morbidly obese claim to be doing the same healthy things as those who are not overweight, so even though responses reflect the answers they think they should give, the good news is many people are either doing, or know they should be doing, these things to be healthy.
Relatively few regularly (five or more times per week) eat a full breakfast (22 percent), a full or well-balanced lunch (21 percent) or a full or well-balanced dinner (37 percent). So there are not very large differences in claimed eating habits between the obese, the overweight and those of normal weight.

When asked what they ate or drank in the last few months, very large numbers claim to have made many changes in their diet. But if all who claim to consume more or less of these foods and drinks actually were, there would have been huge changes in sales for these foods -- and there is no evidence of that.

Large numbers claim to eat more fresh fruit (50 percent), more whole grain (41 percent), less white bread (38 percent), less soda (37 percent), less processed food (35 percent), more raw vegetables (34 percent), less processed meat (34 percent) and more nuts (30 percent). Adults who are obese and those who are morbidly obese do not have very different results than their thinner counterparts.

More than 70 percent believe the amount of each of the following in their diet is very or somewhat important: fat (78 percent), whole grain (78 percent), protein (77 percent), calories (74 percent), saturated fat (74 percent), sugar (72 percent), sodium (67 percent), carbohydrates (65 percent) and hydrogenated oils (61 percent).

Confirming the results of a recent Harris/HealthDay Poll, this new poll finds many of those who are overweight and obese are not fully aware. Only 61 percent of the morbidly obese and 26 percent of the obese (but not morbidly obese) feel they are "much heavier than they should be." And 20 percent of those who are overweight (but not obese) describe their weight as "about right."

Many people know and understand some of the dietary changes they should make. But, as in other areas of behavior change, knowledge alone, while important, is not enough to change behavior. Read more at

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