Healthy and Unhealthy Behavior and Lifestyle Trends: No Significant Change in 2011 in Proportions of Adults Who Are Obese, Smoke or Wear Seatbelts

New York, N.Y. – May 25, 2011 – A new Harris Poll finds no significant change this year in the proportions of adults who smoke, wear seatbelts, or are overweight or obese. Using a set of measures that have been included in Harris Polls for almost 30 years, the latest poll finds that 18% of all adults smoke cigarettes, 78% of all adults are overweight, 38% are obese and 91% of all adults claim to use seatbelts when in the front seats of cars. These numbers are virtually identical to the numbers in Harris Polls conducted in 2009 and 2010.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 1,987 adults surveyed by telephone and online between April 11 and 18, 2011 by Harris Interactive. This is the first time this survey has been conducted using both telephone interviews with online interviews conducted among those who have no landlines or who mainly use cell phones (cell phone only and cell phone mostly adults). This is necessary because of the large and growing proportion of people who cannot or are very unlikely to respond to surveys using only landlines.

The main findings of this survey include:

  • 18% of all adults report smoking cigarettes, compared to 17%-20% in Harris Polls in 2008, 2009, and 2010. These numbers are slightly lower than the 23% to 25% who reported smoking between 2001 and 2004. In total 22% of adults use some kind of tobacco products including those who use pipes (2%), cigars (4%) and chewing tobacco (3%).
  • Using the Body Mass Index (BMI) based on reported measures of height and weight, the poll finds that 63% of adults are overweight, virtually unchanged since 2010 (64%), and that 28% are obese, almost identical to last year’s 29%. Using an older measure, the MetLife tables based on height, weight and body frame, the numbers are a bit higher, with 78% overweight and 38% obese.
  • Fully 91% of adults now claim that they always wear seatbelts in the front seats of cars. This is virtually unchanged for the last two years.
  • However, much has changed over the last 28 years. In 1983 when Harris first asked these questions, 30% of adults reported smoking cigarettes, 15% of adults were obese and only 19% wore seat belts. On a year to year basis the changes have usually been very small, and some of the differences could be due to sampling error. It is therefore useful to look at the changes based on the much larger samples for each 5 year period (as shown in Table 1). This is how the 2011 findings compare with the last two five year periods, from 2001 to 2005 and 2006 to 2010: cigarette smoking down from 23% to 20% to 18%, obesity (using the MetLife tables) up from 32% to 35% to 38%, and seatbelt use up from 83% to 88% to 91%.

All of these findings are based on self reported data. There is some evidence from other surveys that self reports may slightly underestimate the numbers of people who have socially undesirable risk factors such as smoking, being obese or not wearing seatbelts. However the identical questions have been asked almost every year since 1983 and we are confident that the trends reflect real changes in the population over the last 28 Years.

So what?

It is very difficult to detect small changes from year to year but these data may suggest that the so-called obesity epidemic has slowed and may have even topped out or plateaued.

 

 

 

 

TABLE 1

HEALTH RISKS IN 5 YEAR INCREMENTS SINCE 1983

 

Smoke Cigarettes (1)

Overweight

(2)

Obese

(20% +

Overweight)

(3)

Always Wear

Seatbelts

(4)

Averages For:

%

%

%

%

1983-1985 (3 years only)

29

59

15

29

1986-1990

27

61

17

60

1991-1995

25

67

19

71

1996-2000

24

75

28

76

2001-2005

23

78

32

83

2006-2010

20

80

35

88

2011 (1 year only)

18

78

38

91

Notes: (1) Adults aged 18+ who smoke cigarettes (does not include use of pipe, cigars or chewing tobacco)

(2) Adults aged 25+ who weigh more than their recommended weight based on height and body frame, using the Metropolitan Life tables.

(3) Adults aged 25+ who weigh 20 percent or more than their recommended weight based on height and body frame, using the Metropolitan Life tables.

(4) Claim to always wear seat belts in front seat of car.

Sample sizes are approximately 5,000 adults for each of the five year periods, approximately 3,000 for the first period of three years between 1983 and 1985.

Note: Prior to 2011 this survey was conducted by telephone only.

 


 

TABLE 2
SMOKING, OVERWEIGHT AND SEAT BELT USE – ANNUALTRENDS 1983 – 2011

Base: All adults

Smoke Cigarettes

Are Overweight

20% or More Overweight

Always Wear Seatbelts

%

%

%

%

1983

30

58

15

19

1984

28

56

N/A

27

1985

30

62

15

41

1986

27

59

N/A

55

1987

28

59

15

57

1988

26

64

18

60

1989

28

61

17

63

1990

26

64

16

65

1991

25

63

15

69

1992

24

66

N/A

70

1994

26

69

N/A

71

1995

25

71

22

73

1996

24

74

24

75

1997

26

72

27

74

1998

26

76

28

77

1999

24

74

27

77

2000

21

79

32

79

2001

25

76

32

81

2002

23

80

33

81

2003

24

80

33

85

2004

25

76

30

83

2005

19

77

30

86

2006

22

83

39

86

2007

24

79

36

87

2008

17

78

33

87

2009

20

80

32

91

2010

17

78

34

87

2011

18

78

38

91


, The data before 2009 is for adults aged 25 and over. The data for 2009, 2010 and 2011 is for adults aged 18+, so the difference between 2009 and 2008 are not a trend.

When in front seat of car

N/A=Not available.

Note 1: In almost all years the survey was conducted in January or February.

Note 2: Overweight is based on the Metropolitan Life Tables using self-reported weight, height and body frame (small, medium or large). Like all self-reporting this is subject to error, but the identical questions and methods were used in all these surveys.

Note 3: Poll not conducted in 1993.

Note 4: Prior to 2011 this survey was conducted by telephone only.


 

TABLE 3

BODY MASS INDEX (BMI)

Base: All adults

Overweight

(25 or more)

Obese

(30 or more)

%

%

2005

59

23

2006

66

27

2007

63

23

2008

58

23

2009

66

26

2010

64

29

2011

63

28

Note: The data for 2005-2007 was only for adults aged 25+.

The data for 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 is for adults aged 18+, so the difference between 2008 and 2007 are not a trend.

Prior to 2011 this survey was conducted by telephone only.

 

 

TABLE 4

USE OF OTHER TOBACCO PRODUCTS

Do you smoke a pipe or cigars or use chewing tobacco?

Base: All adults

 

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

%

%

%

%

%

%

Pipe

2

1

1

 

1

2

Cigars

4

3

5

3

4

4

Chewing tobacco

2

2

3

2

2

3

Smoke Cigarettes

22

24

17

20

17

18

Use any type of tobacco product

(including cigarettes)

26

28

23

23

21

22

Note: Prior to 2011 this survey was conducted by telephone only.

Methodology

The Harris Poll® was conducted by telephone and online, within the United States between April 11 and 18, 2011 among a nationwide cross section of 1,987 adults (aged 18 and over). The interviews conducted by telephone (1010) included a nationwide cross section of adults with landlines in their households. The interviews conducted online (977) included a nationwide sample who have agreed to take part in Harris Interactive surveys, and who indicated not having a landline (i.e., cell phone only), or using their cell phone for almost all of their calls (cell phone mostly), and thus were included to ensure representation of these groups that are lacking among a traditional RDD telephone sample. Telephone data only were adjusted to ensure appropriate representation on number of telephone/voice lines and number of adults in the household, and online data only were are adjusted by propensity to be online to correct for attitudinal/behavioral differences between our panel and those who respond via phone. Finally, for the combined telephone and online data, figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, household income, and phone status (cell phone only, cell phone mostly, dual users, landline mostly, landline only) were adjusted as necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Population proportions for demographic variables were acquired from the 2010 Current Population Survey, while phone status proportions were acquired from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

 

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

J40012 and 40111

The Harris Poll ® #63, May 25, 2011

By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman, The Harris Poll, Harris Interactive

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