Commentary

Passive Leisure Time and 'Clever Advertising' Contributing to Obesity

Passive Leisure Time and 'Clever Advertising' Contributing to Obesity

Harris Interactive has been tracking the public's weight annually for 20 years. In 1983, by their measures, 58% of all adults over 25 were overweight. Last December that number had risen to 80%. And the proportion of adults over 25, who were 20% or more over their recommended weight, had increased from 15% to 33% over the last 20 years.

A recently released Harris Interactive survey sheds new insight on the causes of the nation's obesity. Eight years ago it found that 38% of all the replies involved activities that required exercise. Now only 29% of the replies involve exercise.

Proportion Of Favorite Pastimes Involving Exercise (% respondents)

19952003
Favorite Activities:
Involve exercise*38%29
Involve little or no exercise6271

*Includes fishing, gardening, playing team sports, swimming, golf, walking, exercise, hunting, bicycling, hiking, camping, running, bowling, dancing, tennis, horseback riding, skiing or housework/yard work.
Source: Harris Interactive, November 2003

Some examples of favorite pastimes that have declined that do require some exercise are gardening (down from 9% to 6%), team sports (from 9% to 6%), walking (from 8% to 4%), swimming (from 7% to 2%), bicycling (from 4% to 2%), running (from 2% to 1%), and bowling (from 4% to 1%).

There are, says the report, several different causes of the obesity epidemic. Andrew Prentice of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medical was quoted recently observing that "food is cheaper now by a long way, more abundantly available, more highly refined, more delicious and more pressingly sold to us by very clever advertising companies and techniques." He notes that we are bombarded by advertising in which glamorous, slim, happy, elegant people make us feel we can be more like them if we consume more of the products advertised.

Another recent survey of 2,231 adults conducted by Harris Interactive between October 30 and November 3, 2003 for The Wall Street Journal Online's Health Industry Edition, found that most people oppose the use of financial incentives to discourage obesity.

Financial Incentives To Encourage Healthier Life Styles (% of All Adults)
"Would you favor or oppose different levels of health insurance premiums, co-payments or deductibles for Overweight vs. within their recommended weight?"

  • Favor 27%
  • Oppose 52%
  • Not sure 21%
    Source: Harris Interactive

    You can find out more here.

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