US consumers convinced they follow 'healthy' diets

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

More than four out of five Americans characterize their eating
habits as either "very healthy" or "somewhat healthy" despite
soaring obesity rates, according to a new survey.

In a study that should worry health officials, Thomson Medstat found that consumer perceptions simply do not reflect the facts. Two thirds of American adults are overweight, 30.5 percent are obese, and 4.7 percent are morbidly obese.

To make sense of this disparity Thomson Medstat researchers examined responses on various topics concerning lifestyle and eating habits. Answers to questions such as: How often do you eat fast food?​ were categorized by each respondent's body mass index (BMI) to gain a clearer picture of the habits of normal-weight Americans and their overweight counterparts.

Thomson Medstat said that results point most strongly to occasional indulgence in a number of risky behaviors. For example, fast food is not a daily meal, but 37.6 percent said they ate fast food one or two times per week.

Also, the majority of those fast food orders were not "super-sized," but 22.3 percent of Americans said they sometimes ask for the "super" or "biggie" size and another 3.6 percent said they super-size their orders "all of the time."

While very few respondents in any of the BMI categories consistently ate super-sized fast foods for the majority of their meals, snacked recklessly, or even characterized their eating habits as poor, Thomson Medstat points out that several high risk behaviors have combined to become part of the average American's weekly routine.

Through a combination of occasional fast food meals, moderate snacking, not quite enough exercise and the belief that these habits are "somewhat healthy," the group warns that Americans are rationalizing themselves into ever-expanding waistlines.The research adds to growing evidence that bad eating habits are causing a major health crisis in the States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children considered to be overweight doubled from 7 percent to 14 percent between 1981 and 2001. And the most recent figures from the American Obesity Association reveal that around 16 percent of US children are currently classed as obese.

A recent survey also found that US adults are divided on the government's role in addressing obesity in children. Just over half of respondents to a Harris Interactive questionnaire for the Wall Street Journal Online said the government should take companies to court if they mislead children and their parents about the nutritional value of foods, while 39 percent disagreed.

Fifty-three percent said the government should play a more active role in regulating the food industry's marketing toward children, compared with 42 percent who disagreed with this statement.

Data for Thomson Medstat's research brief were aggregated from the 2006 PULSE survey. Conducted annually by Thomson Medstat, PULSE is the nation's largest ongoing, privately sponsored consumer health survey.

Related topics: R&D

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