Trying to shed a few extra holiday pounds? Here’s some new research before you chug that cardamom-and-ketchup-packet juice cleanse: According to a recent survey from consumer market research organization NPD Group, the number of Americans who report being on a diet has declined to 20 percent from 34 percent in 1991.
NPD’s Harry Balzer attributes the decrease in part to shifting public attitudes about body weight, which the survey also tracked by asking whether respondents agreed or disagreed with the statement: “People who are not overweight look more attractive.” While 55 percent of Americans surveyed agreed with this statement in 1985, now only 23 percent equate being heavy with being less attractive. Balzer calls it, “One of the biggest changes in our attitudes about health over the past 30 years.” Yet the study is conspicuously vague about defining the term “diet,” prompting NPR’s Allison Aubrey to question whether respondents are curbing appetites and counting calories without actually referring to their eating habits as a “diet.”
Furthermore, other studies have come to vastly different conclusions about American dietary patterns: A 2012 survey from the International Food Information Council Foundation determined that 55 percent of Americans are actively trying to lose weight, about the same as in 2007. The NPD study also doesn’t discuss whether certain demographics are more vulnerable to societal pressures to lose weight, such as young women and girls; a study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently concluded that hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 has increased by a whopping 119 percent [AH1] between 1999 and 2006.
Does the NPD study reflected a sea change in public attitudes toward weight and body image? Among other clues, the continued popularity of pseudo-inspirational weight loss reality TV shows and celebrity-endorsed fad diets — cookie diet, anyone? — suggests we’re not there yet.