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Poll - Majority of Americans watch eating habits

Friday, September 10, 2004

HOUSTON -- Nearly 70 percent of Americans say they are careful about what they eat, and even more say diet is essential to good health, according to a new nationwide health poll in which obesity ranked second among the biggest health concerns.

Health-care costs ranked No. 1, with 56 percent of those surveyed saying they were personally affected by cost.

Most Americans surveyed acknowledge they're overweight, but they said their healthy eating habits are based on foods they like and the ones they think are best for them. Only 8 percent say they eat healthy by following a diet, such as Atkins or Weight Watchers. The poll was conducted in August by Zogby International, a leading polling company, commissioned by UT, which wanted current health data.

Government figures say two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

Health experts say Americans' disconnect with the truth about their eating habits and weight is not surprising because many people confuse eating some healthy foods with having an overall healthy diet.

The latest poll also found that 87 percent believe diet is essential to good health. Thirty-eight percent say they take part in aerobic exercise, while 19 percent get exercise because of physically demanding work and 12 percent lift weights.

Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed said they take either vitamins or herbal supplements and most people believe health insurance should cover nutritional supplements.

The Zogby poll asked 61 questions on a variety of health-related topics. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. About 1,200 randomly chosen adults were interviewed by telephone from Aug. 16-20.

Most people surveyed also think their doctors should have a more active role in promoting a healthy lifestyle, said John Zogby, president of the polling firm.

Sixty-six percent said it's more important for a doctor to focus on preventive means, such as eating habits and exercise, rather than just diagnosing and treating illnesses. Also, about a fifth of the respondents said a doctor, nurse or other health professional is their primary source for health and diet information.

"There seems to be a revolution in the doctor-patient relationship," Zogby said. "They respect and trust physicians. Within this relationship, they have a certain expectation for their physician. They want to know, learn more."


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