Poll: Most Have Healthy Self Image

GENERIC Overweight man, health obesity AP / CBS

Most Americans describe themselves as in good health and many say they are eating healthier than they were five years ago. Yet over a third says they are overweight and nearly all think obesity is a serious public health problem in this country. Despite their concerns, Americans plan to eat heartily this coming holiday season.

AMERICANS AND THEIR WEIGHT

35 percent of Americans say they are overweight, while most — 61 percent — say they are about the right weight. Only 4 percent think they are underweight. Back in 1997, 41 percent of Americans said they were overweight.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT WEIGHT?

Underweight
Now
4%
5/1997
5%

Overweight
Now
35%
5/1997
41%

About right
Now
61%
5/1997
54%

Today, men and women are equally as likely to say they are overweight. Those under 30 are less likely than any other age group to say they are overweight. Southerners are more likely to describe themselves as overweight than those residing in other parts of the country.

AMERICANS: WHO THINKS THEY ARE OVERWEIGHT?

Total
Underweight
4%
Overweight
35%
About right
61%

Men
Underweight
2%
Overweight
34%
About right
64%

Women
Underweight
5%
Overweight
37%
About right
58%


Age 18-29
Underweight
8%
Overweight
26%
About right
67%

30-44
Underweight
4%
Overweight
41%
About right
55%

45-64
Underweight
1%
Overweight
35%
About right
63%

65 and over
Underweight
3%
Overweight
37%
About right
59%

Region
Northeast
Underweight
4%
Overweight
31%
About right
64%

Midwest
Underweight
4%
Overweight
33%
About right
62%

South
Underweight
5%
Overweight
42%
About right
53%

West
Underweight
0%
Overweight
33%
About right
67%

It may be no surprise that one in five Americans are currently on a diet and another 36 percent have been on one at some point. Two-thirds of women have dieted, compared to 43 percent of men. Among those who are overweight, three in four have dieted; including 32 percent are now on a diet.

ARE YOU ON A DIET?

On a diet now
All
19%
Men
18%
Women
19%
Those who are overweight
32%

Have been on a diet, but now now
All
36%
Men
25%
Women
47%
Those who are overweight
46%

Never been on a diet
All
45%
Men
57%
Women
33%
Those who are overweight
22%

HEALTH, DIET AND EXERCISE

More than eight in ten Americans think they are in good health — and 30 percent say they are in excellent health. There is no gender gap on this but there is a difference by age. While seniors are somewhat less likely than their younger counterparts to describe their health as excellent, more do so now than in 1997. 24 percent of those 65 and over rate their health as excellent today, compared to 18 percent of seniors who did so back then. It should also be noted that those who are overweight are less likely to think their health is excellent — only 14 percent do.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR HEALTH?

Excellent
Now
30%
5/1997
34%

Good
Now
53%
5/1997
51%

Only fair
Now
14%
5/1997
12%

Poor
Now
3%
5/1997
3%

Social class plays a part in the health rating as those with higher levels of education and incomes are most likely to rate their general health highly. 43 percent of college graduates say they are in excellent health, compared to 25 percent of those with less education. 41 percent of those earning $50,000 or more say their health is excellent. Among those with incomes under $30,000, just 22 percent rate their health as excellent.

RATING YOUR HEALTH

Percent who say excellent
Total
30%

Age
18-29
36%
30-44
29%
45-64
30%
65+
24%

Not college grad
25%
College grad +
43%

Less than $30K
22%
$30K-$50k
17%
Over $50K
41%

Overweight
14%
Not overweight
39%

Americans say they are exercising more now than they did 12 years ago. Two-thirds report exercising at least a few days a week for 30 minutes, with 26 percent saying they exercise every day. In 1993, somewhat fewer Americans — 53 percent — said they exercised at least a few days a week. There are some gender differences: 32 percent of men say they exercise every day, while just 21 percent of women report doing so.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU EXERCISE FOR 30 MINUTES OR MORE?

Every day
All
26%
Men
32%
Women
21%
1/1993
23%

Few days a week
All
40%
Men
36%
Women
43%
1/1993
30%

Once a week
All
11%
Men
8%
Women
13%
1/1993
11%

Few times a month
All
8%
Men
8%
Women
7%
1/1993
11%

Less often/never
All
15%
Men
16%
Women
16%
1/1993
24%

In addition, many Americans do say they are eating better these days. Overall, 46 percent say their diet is healthier now than it was five years ago, 48 percent say it is about the same, while just 6 percent describe their diet as less healthy now. Aging baby boomers, those ages 45-64, are the mostly likely of any age group to day they are eating healthier today.

COMPARED TO FIVE YEARS AGO, IS YOUR DIET…

More healthy
46%
Less healthy
6%
About the same
48%

Seven in 10 Americans have stopped eating or cut back on certain kinds of food in the past five years, especially naming foods that are high in fat and sugar. Also, more than half say they are eating more of certain kinds of foods, especially healthier foods.

HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR DIET?

Stopped eating or cut back on certain foods
69%
Eating more of certain kinds of food
55%

Among the foods Americans have stopped eating, foods that are high in fat top the list with 16 percent, closely followed by sweets with 15 percent. Meat and carbohydrates are named by 9 percent and 8 percent respectively.

WHAT FOODS HAVE YOU STOPPED EATING OR CUT BACK ON?

High-fat foods
16%
Sweets/sugar/candy
15%
Meat
9%
Carbohydrates
8%
Fast food
6%
Fried food
5%
Have not cut back
30%

23 percent report eating more vegetables and greens. Fruit comes in a distant second with 9 percent, followed by fish and fiber and bran, each with 4 percent.

WHAT FOODS ARE YOU EATING MORE OF?
Vegetables/greens
23%
Fruit
9%
Fish
4%
Fiber/bran/grains
4%
Not eating more of certain foods
43%

The increase in activity since 1993, along with the trend towards healthier eating, may be mirrored in how people describe their weight today – if they're describing it accurately. Fewer people now say they are overweight than said so in 1997.

OBESITY

Nearly all Americans think that obesity is a serious public health problem, including 55 percent who describe it as very serious. Women are more likely than men to say the problem of obesity is very serious.

HOW SERIOUS A PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEM IS OBESITY?

Very serious
55%
Somewhat serious
38%
Not very/not at all
7%

There are also differences on this question when it comes to age. 66 percent of those 65 and over think obesity is a very serious health problem, but among young Americans (those under 30) fewer than half describe it that way. 58 percent of overweight Americans think obesity is a very serious public health problem – not much different from other Americans.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS: FEAST OR FAMINE?

While many Americans say they are eating healthier, they may not do so over the holidays. 56 percent plan to eat what they want, even though that may mean putting on some extra pounds. On the other hand, 43 percent plan to control what they eat and try and avoid gaining weight.

WHICH IS MORE LIKELY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON?

You will eat what you want
56%
You will control what you eat
43%

It looks like some Americans may not be sticking to their diets. Among those currently dieting, four in 10 will eat what they want over the holidays but six in 10 will be watching what they eat. Also, half of those who are overweight plan to eat what they want over the holidays.

WHICH IS MORE LIKELY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON?

Will eat what you want
Those now on a diet
39%
Those now overweight
52%

Will control what you eat
Those now on a diet
59%
Those now overweight
46%

Men in particular may eat more over the holidays. 62 percent of them they will eat what they want this holiday season even if they gain some weight.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 936 adults, interviewed by telephone October 30-November 1, 2005. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points.


For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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