Americans worried more about obesity than alcohol

A pint of beer is poured at the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company on May 3, 2012 in Elmsford, New York.

Jeremy Hobson: A new study in the journal Lancet says lack of exercise now causes as many deaths as smoking. And according to the latest figures, obesity costs Americans about $200 billion a year in medical expenses. So perhaps it makes sense that for the first time, Americans polled by Gallup see obesity as a bigger problem than smoking or alcohol consumption.

Frank Newport is editor-in-chief at Gallup and he joins us for our weekly segment Attitude Check. Good morning, Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Hobson: So Frank, we're more concerned now with obesity than alcohol or smoking?

Newport: That's right -- and when you say we're more concerned, we're talking about how serious a problem Americans perceive it to be out there; it's not like are you concerned personally. But we said: How big of a problem do you think those three things are -- obesity, cigarettes and alcohol?

We have asked the question asked the questions a couple of times previously, about eight years ago. And back then, it was obesity and cigarettes tied for the most seriously problem of those three, alcohol was below it. Now, we have had an increase in the concern about obesity: 81 percent of Americans say that obesity is a very serious problem, and that's now well above the 67 percent who say that about smoking; drinking, by the way is down at 47 percent.

So all of this concern that we hear in the news media about obesity is percolating its way into the minds of Americans, it looks like.

Hobson: And do people want the government to get involved in fighting obesity in a bigger way?

Newport: Not nearly as many people think that's it's important that the government get involved in fighting obesity as that say it is a serious problem; it's 57 percent of Americans who say the government should be involved, and that's compared to 81 percent who say it's a serious problem.

You ask why? It's Republicans. Republicans are very much against the government doing anything about obesity, whereas Democrats are very, very high; there's a huge gulf there. So what we're seeing here is a lot of pushback from conservatives that the government should be doing something about it, even though they recognize that it's a serious problem.

Hobson: And I hear you've got some numbers about what exactly Americans who drink alcohol like to drink?

Newport: Yes. Actually, we've been asking going all the way back to 1939, believe it or not -- tail end of the Depression: Do you drink alcoholic beverages at all? Right now, 66 percent say they do; that means that 34 percent of us are total abstainers, or teetotalers. We took that 66 percent and said all right, what's your beverage of choice -- beer, wine, or liquor? And it is beer, but not by much: 39 percent of drinkers say beer is their favorite beverage, 35 percent wine, and 22 percent liquor.

Hobson: What's your choice, Frank?

Newport: Well, I rarely drink actually. Although, the medical data shows the occasional drink would be good for health.

Hobson: A glass of red wine or something?

Newport: But when I do, it would be a glass of wine, that's right.

Hobson: Frank Newport, editor-in-chief at Gallup. Thanks.

Newport: My pleasure.

 

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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