When it comes to eating well and exercising, Americans seem to be pretty good at “talking the talk.” Most of us claim that we’re taking in less fat, sugar and red meat, that we’re eating more fruits and veggies and that we’re exercising regularly. But when it comes to actually “walking the walk,” it’s a different story. There seems to be a big gap between the number of people who have good intentions to engage in these healthy behaviors and the number who actually do. And that seems to suggest that knowledge alone isn’t enough when it comes to adopting healthy behaviors. Just because we know what we should be doing, doesn’t mean we actually do them.
Recently, the results of a survey1 were released by a market research firm that’s been tracking the eating behaviors of millions of Americans for over 30 years. The survey presented adults with a series of statements related to nutrition and healthy lifestyle behaviors—things like, “I exercise regularly” or “I limit my sugar intake.” The participants were then asked two things: how often they actually followed these behaviors over the previous twelve months, and how often in the next year they expected to.
The biggest gap between what people said they were going to do and what they were actually doing was in getting regular exercise. Almost two-thirds of respondents said they intended to exercise regularly in the upcoming year, but only 46 percent said this was something they were actually doing. More than half said they expected to reduce their calorie intake in the future, but only 38% were actually making the effort. Ditto for eating smaller, more frequent meals: 44% said they expected to, but fewer than 30% were actively practicing portion control.
One thing was clear from the report. Respondents were well acquainted with the top features of a healthy lifestyle and could easily reel them off: regular exercise, well balanced meals, eating in moderation, a limit on fat, saturated fat and sugar intake and drinking eight glasses of water a day.
But simply knowing what’s best for us doesn’t necessarily ensure that we’ll become more active or make better food choices. We have to figure out what will motivate us to be more than just intent on doing something, but to actually following through. Some might be motivated by the promise of a healthier body weight. For others, it might be more about feeling better and putting more life into their years.
Even with motivation and the best intentions, it could still be an uphill battle. The survey also reported that when it comes to deciding what to eat, “taste appeal and enjoyment” outranked by a wide margin the consideration of “health and nutrition.”
1NPD Group Inc. Healthy Eating Strategies by Generations, 2011.