60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll: Fitness

Most Americans say they'd be OK with having an overweight president in this month's poll. Check out those results and more!

Welcome to the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll for June 2014. This month's poll focuses on fitness in America. Until about 50 years ago, most Americans were relatively thin and fit. The rigors of life and work coupled with a scarcity of rich or processed foods made obesity rare. Just look at films of large gatherings of people in the first half of the 20th century, almost everyone is thin.

Things began to change in the 1950s when doctors began noticing that American children were getting heavier due to changing lifestyles especially in cities. President Eisenhower who knew something about preparing soldiers for the rigors of war took notice and created The President's Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. President Kennedy made it a big part of his policy initiatives even writing articles with names like "The Soft American" and "The Vigor We Need."

Since then, every administration has been losing ground to an epidemic of weight gain, less physical activity and poor nutrition. Powerful food interests have sway in Congress. Long ago, to show off their wealth, rich people used to be fat. Ironically, they can now afford to be thin. Michelle Obama, to her credit, has been a strong advocate of improving school nutrition with more fresh fruits and vegetables while encouraging more activity with programs like "Let's Move." Until we demand better from Congress and ourselves, nutrition in America may be considered by some to be an oxymoron. There is one thing we can all do today to help the cause for better health in America and it costs nothing, and that is exercise. It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Commander-In-Chief

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Would you vote for someone who was overweight for president? Nearly two out of three Americans (64 percent) say they would give little weight to a candidate being overweight as long as they can get the job done. Fifteen percent said voting for such a candidate would send the right message, that appearance doesn't matter. Ten percent said fat chance, that it sends the wrong message about health and well-being, and nine percent said it would be risky to have the commander-in-chief's health be at risk. Being president is the most stressful job, you already have the weight of the world on your shoulders, you can see them age by the day. Being overweight shouldn't preclude someone from being president but it is not optimal. Then again, President Taft was a heavyweight who did fine and went on to become chief justice after his time in the White House.

Fitness Fad

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One out of four Americans think that the intense 90 day workout plan P90X is most likely a fad and least likely to last. Twenty-one percent chose the dance fitness program Zumba followed by the spinning adventure Soul Cycle (15 percent), strength and conditioning program CrossFit (eight percent) and the ancient tradition of Yoga with eight percent. Twenty-four percent said they did not know.

Performance-enhancing drugs

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Even if there were no risk to the player's health, 84 percent of Americans would just say no to steroids in professional sports. Fifteen percent would allow them. We feel duped by champions who cheated while setting records and achieving great glory and accepting the adulation of the American people. When we found out that some of it may have been won dishonestly, we were angry. Worse yet was the fate of the honest athletes who played by the rules and who might well have been the winners in a fair fight. Americans are big on fairness and in many ways pro sports are our last true meritocracies. We insist on a level playing field for everyone with no shortcuts to substitute for talent and hard work. The vast majority of Americans want to return to these values and be able to trust our athletes again.

Gym Getaway?

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When they are on vacation, 44 percent of Americans also take a vacation from working out. Twenty-three percent said they intend to exercise but rarely do, 20 percent said they always work out even when vacationing and 12 percent said they either never work out or never vacation. Ever take the kids to Disney World? That will provide you with more exercise than you may want. Those who manage to truly get away for some rest, reflection and relaxation get to experience the definition of a "getaway." Whether you're on a family vacation with lots of activities and adventure or just a quiet retreat from the chaos of life, the benefits to your mind body and soul are a wonderful gift to yourself.

Secret Surgery

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If they could have plastic surgery without anyone ever knowing, 31 percent could stomach having a tummy tuck, nine percent would put their nose to the grind stone, eight percent would do a chin up, six percent would keep abreast of the latest chest work, another six percent would take it right between (or under) the eyes and five percent would have less thigh. Thirty-three percent said no thanks, they'll keep what they have.

Bare It All

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Fifty-five percent of Americans said they would not be comfortable with nudity in their gym locker room and 44 percent said they would be. A more accurate picture emerges when gender is taken in to account. Sixty-three percent of men said they are comfortable with it and 71 percent of women said they are not.

"Do you come here often?"

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Seventy-seven percent of Americans say they neither expect to hit on someone or be hit on by someone when they are working out at the gym. Fifteen percent said they are more likely to be hit on and only six percent said they are more likely to hit on someone. Older or married folks might have little expectation of being the hitter or the hittee when they're on the treadmill but for those who are looking to meet someone, they could do worse than to meet people who share a passion for fitness and health as long as they approach each other in a respectful manner.

Hot or not?

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Three out of four Americans say it is possible to think these two thoughts at the same time: that a person is really attractive and that they are also really out of shape. Why should the two thoughts necessarily be mutually exclusive? It's probably not very common, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the notion that some very out of shape people can remain very attractive is not too difficult to imagine.

Exercise to live longer

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Let's face it, neither of these alternatives sound bad, but two out of three Americans would choose to exercise hard every day and live 10 years longer to the age of 90. For the 33 percent who don't feel like hitting it hard every day, they'll take age 80 and run (well, maybe not run).

Health Hierarchy

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When they see a trim person in Spandex juicing, 85 percent of Americans don't think much about it. Eleven percent say they wish they had that discipline and only three percent said they felt guilty. The vast majority of Americans have plenty going on in their own lives without having to get worked up about what others are doing. Now if you could have that body without having to do all the work that went in to it? The line forms to the left.

Get Busy

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And now for this month's water cooler question. This one ought to spark some lively debates. Do you consider sex to be a workout or not? Fifty-three percent of Americans consider having sex to be a workout and 43 percent said they do not. Like a lot of enjoyable activities, the net benefit usually depends on the amount of energy that is expended in the effort. Let the debates begin...


This poll was conducted by telephone from April 9-13, 2014 among 1,015 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by Social Science Research Solutions of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus 3 percentage points. The error for other subgroups may be higher. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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