Poll: Americans Hope to Shed Pounds in New Year

ByAnalysis By Jon Cohen

Jan. 2, 2006 — -- One item on the agendas of millions of Americans in the new year is losing weight -- and many are actively trying. But the impediments are many -- hectic schedules, lack of exercise, too much stress, too little willpower, and good old-fashioned food cravings.

Forty-five percent of adults -- just under 100 million people in this country -- say they'd like to shed a few pounds, and losing weight and exercising more are among this year's most frequently mentioned New Year's resolutions, this ABC News/America Online poll finds.

Among people who'd like to lose weight, three in 10 are seriously trying to do so. That's around 30 million people -- plenty enough to keep the treadmills turning. But it means many millions more want to shed pounds, yet aren't taking the steps to make it happen.

Why the gap? Finding the time, doing the exercise and having the sheer willpower it takes to slim down are the three big obstacles. Among people who'd like to lose weight, about a quarter cite each of these as the hardest thing about losing weight.

Motivation can address those, as well as the next item on the list -- taking the trouble to count calories, which about one in 10 calls that the toughest task in losing weight.

Almost as many, though, cite an economic rather than motivational problem -- the higher cost of healthful food. That concern, naturally, peaks (at 16 percent) among low-income Americans.

Still, diet and exercise clearly are the biggest culprits: Among overweight Americans, nearly six in 10 point to one of these as the main reason they're heavy (32 percent say it's lack of exercise and 27 percent cite problems with their diet). Similarly, when asked the main cause of obesity in general, 75 percent of Americans cite either poor eating habits or lack of exercise.

This survey was conducted to support special month-long coverage of weight loss issues on ABC's "Good Morning America," in partnership with AOL.

Women are more likely than men to want to lose weight, 55 percent versus 36 percent -- but they're no more likely to be actively trying to do so. When it comes to causes, overweight men and women are about equally likely to blame lack of exercise, but more men than women (by nine points) blame diet, while more women than men (by 10 points) cite stress.

Food cravings are nearly endemic: Nearly everyone can name some fattening food indulgence that they crave.

Chocolate takes the cake: Twenty percent of Americans call it their top food indulgence, and that's particularly true among women -- 27 percent of women crave chocolate, compared with 12 percent of men. Men, instead, are much more apt than women to cite -- you guessed it -- red meat.

The usual culprits round out the top of the list -- ice cream, cake and pizza. Other frequent mentions include pasta, beer, donuts and french fries. And infrequent answers run the gamut: "cheese fries, bacon, cheese fries, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream," said one excited respondent. Other mentions included "pickled pigs feet," "halvah" and "deer summer sausage." And one gets a pass: "The Lord has taken care of all that; he has made me allergic to all foods that I crave."

Why do people indulge in these treats? Comfort is the main reason. Nearly six in 10 Americans say they turn to these foods for comfort; about a quarter say, instead, that it's as a reward. That includes about equal numbers of men and women.

Overweight Americans are more likely than others to indulge in fattening foods for comfort -- 66 percent do. Indulging as a reward, rather than to soothe, peaks among young adults, at 34 percent; it's only 13 percent among seniors.

What one part of their bodies would Americans like most to firm up? One gentleman called himself a "finely tuned working machine," but almost everyone easily named parts they'd like to improve. The belly gets targeted by a wide majority: Six in 10 say that's where they'd slim down, including equal numbers of men and women.

Among overweight Americans, three-quarters would pick their stomachs to firm first. Even among people who say they're about the right weight, just under half would like to firm their bellies, nonetheless.

The real difference between men and women comes in the second-ranked item: Twenty-two percent of women say their thighs, butts or hips most need slimming. Just one percent of men say the same.

Refreshingly, one percent of men and women alike say they'd most like to firm or tone their brains.

While weight is a broad concern, weight discrimination is not commonly cited. Among all Americans, just seven percent say they've felt discriminated against because of their weight; nine percent say they've felt made fun of or excluded from social activities.

These numbers are somewhat higher among people who describe themselves as overweight: In this group, 13 percent say they've been discriminated against and 15 percent say they've been socially excluded because of their weight. Overweight women are slightly more likely than overweight men to say they've felt discriminated against.

When asked to evaluate their own attitudes, 35 percent of Americans say they have at least some negative feelings about overweight people; it's about the same, 39 percent, among those who are overweight themselves.

Making a New Year's resolution has something in common with weight loss -- a lot of people talk about it, but far fewer do it. Indeed the most notable thing about New Year's resolutions is that 65 percent of Americans say they don't make one.

Among those who do say they'll make a resolution, health and well-being top the list: Fourteen percent say it'll be to lose weight, 13 percent to stop smoking. Others want to improve their health generally, exercise more or eat more healthfully. Five percent want something simpler -- to be a better person. One respondent made it simpler still: He just wants to stop swearing.

This ABC News/AOL poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 9-13, 2005, among a random national sample of 1,010 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation are by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

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