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America's Eating Habits

Since 1987, Parade magazine has tracked the eating, food shopping and diet habits of Americans in an annual survey.

In the first of a three-part HealthWatch series, The Early Show takes a look at the results of Parade's 2005 survey called "What America Eats."

"I think the headline is 'People are getting the message,' " magazine senior editor Fran Carpentier tells co-anchor Harry Smith. "They're getting the message that what you eat is really such a component of a healthy life, and a good life, and maybe even preventive in terms of disease and illness."

This national mail survey was done in March with 2,088 adults between the ages of 18 and 65.

"When we look at what they're doing, there have been a lot of improvements but it's kind of a mixed bag," Carpentier says. "I think we talk a good game better than we're playing it."

Summarizing the findings, Carpentier says, "If you ask the average American what you want to eat, he would say the same only better."

Of those surveyed 84 percent say they try to eat a well-balanced diet; 77 percent say they lead a healthy lifestyle by eating more vegetables, salad and chicken; and fruit is the No. 1 snack among adults (76 percent).

Yet Americans still have that "reward" mentality — 87 percent eat dessert one or more times per week.

One in four pays no attention to nutritional facts and figures. And more than half of those surveyed (59 percent) are familiar with the USDA food pyramid but don't really follow it. A quarter of them (26 percent) are not even aware that new dietary guidelines and food pyramid were released in January.

The biggest changes are that Americans are not dieting — only 25 percent are currently on diets to lose weight. But they are making lifestyle changes such as eating smaller portions and reducing sugar intake.

People do not want to be regimented or structured, and don't want to deny the occasional carb, fast-food lunch or dessert. Most (76 percent) say eliminating an entire food group from one's diet is unhealthy.

The survey also found that Americans are leaning more heavily on convenience foods. Fifty-one percent now consider "homemade" to include frozen veggies and bagged salad. 21 percent eat cereal for dinner two times per week. And even holidays are not immune: 34 percent would prefer to cater holiday meals or go out to eat.

Only 4 percent avoid preservatives, processed and fast foods. "There really are not very many Americans who are kind of hard core in terms of making the best decisions," Carpentier says.