Parade magazine study finds mixed bag of eating habits

by Josh Sosland
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NEW YORK — Nearly 50% of Americans eat fewer than three meals a day, according to data compiled for the annual Parade "What America Eats" survey.

The study, published in Parade magazines nationwide Nov. 13, found that of those who skip meals, 7 in 10 skip breakfast and 37% skip lunch.

Still, the news was not all bad for ready-to-eat cereal makers: 21% of consumers eat cereal for dinner more than two times a week.

While the Parade study found a number of indications of a shift toward healthier eating, other signs pointed toward poorer dietary habits.

Among the positives, consumers are eating more vegetables than two years ago (cited by 46% of respondents), more salads (44%) and more chicken (40%).

Additionally, a transformation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Guide Pyramid did not translate into similar changes in Americans’ perception of the icon. Fifty nine per cent of respondents said they were familiar with the pyramid but added that they "do not really follow it."

Apparently cognizant of the worsening problems of weight gain and obesity, respondents said government and industry have a role in improving the situation. Responding that the "obesity crisis" should be addressed by food companies were 80% of those surveyed with 71% stating the government needs to address the problem.

About half of parents believe their own child’s weight is fine, and only 25% of adults are dieting to lose weight, the survey found.

Eating ethnic foods remains popular, led by Chinese, Italian and Mexican foods. Additionally, more than one in five Americans is interested in trying Caribbean, Greek, Latino, French, Thai, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.

Flying in the face of what Parade called a "long-cherished tradition," 34% of Americans prefer to dine out or have a meal catered in for the holidays.

While different questions were posed for the 2005 survey than last year’s, a look at responses to both suggest continuing diminution in the public’s faith in low-carbohydrate dieting. In the 2005 survey, 76% of respondents said eliminating an entire food group, such as carbohydrates or fat, is unhealthy. A year earlier, 38% of respondents said "reducing carbs" was a permanent change in their diet.

The survey was conducted in March among 2,088 adults, aged 18 to 65. Parade said the results are accurate to within 2.2% at the 95% level of confidence. ConAgra Foods, Inc. sponsored the survey and placed an advertising insert within Parade promoting various ConAgra products and a contest for a chance to win a trip to New York and to dine with Sheila Lukins, food editor of Parade.

Asked what famous person they’d like to sit beside at a dinner party, the first choice among men was President Bush. The president didn’t fare as well with women, who would prefer to sit next to Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts, Ellen DeGeneres, Johnny Depp, Martha Stewart, First Lady Laura Bush or Brad Pitt.

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