Diet Research: Number Of Americans On Diets Has Decreased, Attitudes On Weight Have Changed, Study Finds

Fewer Americans Are Doing This
Low section closeup of a woman's feet on weighing scale
Low section closeup of a woman's feet on weighing scale

In January, the month of New Year's resolutions galore, it might seem like everyone is on a diet... but in general, dieting may not be as prevalent in the U.S. as it was in the past.

New data from market research company the NPD Group suggests that fewer American women are on diets than ever before. 23 percent of women reported being on a diet at some point in 2012, compared to the 35 percent dieting in 1992, according to a press release.

Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group and national eating trends expert, also indicated in the press release that Americans on diets are sticking with them for a shorter amount of time: “Our data suggests that dieters are giving up on diets more quickly than in the past. In 2004, 66 percent of all dieters said they were on a diet for at least 6 months. In 2012, that number dropped to 62 percent. Perhaps people are not seeing results quickly enough." NPD collected the data through its National Eating Trends® (NET®) telephone surveys of approximately 5,000 Americans in 2,000 households.

Additionally, the data showed that Americans' ideas about what constitutes an attractive weight have shifted. The surveys asked participants: "Do you agree or disagree with this statement: People who are not overweight look a lot more attractive?" Only 23 percent of respondents in 2012 agreed with the statement, compared to 55 percent of respondents in 1985. “This is one of the biggest changes in our attitudes about health over the last 30 years,” said Balzer in the press release.

So, why the change in dieting practices and attitudes about body weight? Balzer observed that the two are linked.

"There are three ways you can take care of your weight," Balzer told the Huffington Post in a phone interview. "You can exercise more, increase your energy expenditure. You can reduce your energy input -- eat less. Or you can change your attitude. What’s the easiest way? That’s who we are as humans... we always seek out the easiest way." In other words, human beings would rather change their belief system than go through the difficult process of changing their behavior. According to Balzer, coming to accept and appreciate larger bodies will lead to higher body satisfaction, and in turn, less dieting.

NPR's The Salt offered an alternative explanation for the decreased numbers of people dieting: "It's entirely possible that many of us are watching what we eat and consciously limiting calories, but we're just not calling it a 'diet.' So maybe the term 'diet' is becoming passé."

Dietician and Shape blogger Elizabeth M. Ward, who describes "diet" as "a four-letter word," wrote that she felt optimistic about the NPD Group's recent research. Ward blogged: "I hope [the data] is a sign that people have finally embraced the message to adopt reasonable lifestyle changes instead of trying to stick to low-calorie plans."

What could such attitudinal changes mean for the $20 billion a year diet industry?

"I don't think the diet industry has anything to worry about," Balzer told HuffPost. "The number of dieters is bigger than the diet industry. There’s plenty of room. I think we’re going to get what we always get, which is 'What’s the new diet? And is this one easier?'”

This article has been updated to include a revised figure for diet industry revenue as of 2012; it was initially reported as $20 million annually.

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