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Diet and Nutrition

Are People Actually Changing Their Nutrition and Fitness Behaviors?

RunningNutrition and fitness are receiving a lot of attention these days, but knowing is not the same as doing. Are people actually changing their behaviors? As you might guess, that kind of data is difficult to get a handle on.

One good source of information is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1984, the CDC began the "Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System," a phone survey asking people about a wide range of health-related behaviors. Today, the survey interviews more than 350,000 people throughout the United States and its territories. Many of its questions have been revised over the years, but the responses offer insight into behavior change over time. Data from the mid-1990s on is available online.

Looking just at the nutrition and exercise data, it appears that Americans are slowly adopting better behaviors. For example, in 1996, 23.7 percent of respondents said they ate fruits and vegetables five or more times a day. By 2007, the percentage had inched up to 24.3 percent.

For exercise, people were asked "In the past month, did you participate in any physical activities?" In 1996, 72.1 percent said yes. In 2007, that percentage increased to 77 percent.

In 2007, a more specific question was asked: "Do you engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more days per week, or vigorous physical activity for at least 20 minutes on three or more days per week?" Just more than half said "yes," and it will be interesting to watch the trends for that data.

The survey has also asked for height and weight information, allowing researchers to calculate rates of overweight and obesity. It's probably no surprise that Americans appear to be losing the battle of the bulge: In 1995, 51.4 percent of respondents were overweight or obese, compared with 63 percent in 2007.

Another source of information is the Food and Drug Administration's "Health and Diet Survey: Dietary Guidelines Supplement." Released earlier in 2008, this survey interviewed just over 1,200 adults in both 2004 and 2005. Its focus was in response to the 2005 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Overall, findings indicate Americans do believe healthy eating habits are important, and they think about nutrition when shopping for food. They also seem confident that they know how to choose healthy foods and the amount of physical activity they should be engaging in. Despite these findings, the report states, "knowledge and good intentions are not always reflected in their behavior."

Obviously, behavior change is hard. Taking small steps can be helpful, and awareness is key. Now -- to the gym.

This article originally appeared in Chow Line (06/13/08), a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2008.

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Last Reviewed: Oct 31, 2013

Lydia   Medeiros, PhD Lydia Medeiros, PhD
College of Education and Human Ecology
The Ohio State University