updated 9/20/2004 4:31:41 PM ET 2004-09-20T20:31:41

Nearly 70 percent of Americans say they are careful about what they eat, and even more say diet is essential to good health, according to a new nationwide health poll in which obesity ranked second among the biggest health concerns.

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Health care costs ranked No. 1, with 56 percent of those surveyed saying they were personally affected by cost.

Most Americans surveyed acknowledge they’re overweight although fewer than the two-thirds, but they said their healthy eating habits are based on foods they like and the ones they think are best for them. Only 8 percent say they eat healthy by following a diet, such as Atkins or Weight Watchers.

“We found that most people know they want to eat better, they’re trying to lose weight. Fifty-six percent say they’re overweight, but they seem to know what they should be eating. By default, it’s a question of willpower,” said S. Ward Casscells III, a vice president with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, which commissioned the poll. “People are pretty well-educated about health and that was pretty nice to see.”

Casscells said he was surprised the country was fairly uniform in its attitudes about health and diet.

The poll was conducted in August by Zogby International, a leading polling company, commissioned by UT, which wanted current health data.

Disconnect with the truth
The Zogby poll mirrors aspects of an Ipsos-Insight poll in March that found that while 76 percent of consumers say they have healthy eating habits, 57 percent still consider themselves overweight. In the Zogby poll, 69 percent said they were careful about what they eat, while 56 percent said they were overweight.

Government figures say two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

Health experts say Americans’ disconnect with the truth about their eating habits and weight is not surprising because many people confuse eating some healthy foods with having an overall healthy diet.

The latest poll also found that 87 percent believe diet is essential to good health. Thirty-eight percent say they take part in aerobic exercise, while 19 percent get exercise because of physically demanding work and 12 percent lift weights.

Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed said they take either vitamins or herbal supplements and most people believe health insurance should cover nutritional supplements.

The Zogby poll asked 61 questions on a variety of health-related topics. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. About 1,200 randomly chosen adults were interviewed by telephone from Aug. 16-20.

Most people surveyed also think their doctors should have a more active role in promoting a healthy lifestyle, said John Zogby, president of the polling firm.

Sixty-six percent said it’s more important for a doctor to focus on preventive means, such as eating habits and exercise, rather than just diagnosing and treating illnesses. Also, about a fifth of the respondents said a doctor, nurse or other health professional is their primary source for health and diet information.

“There seems to be a revolution in the doctor-patient relationship,” Zogby said. “They respect and trust physicians. Within this relationship, they have a certain expectation for their physician. They want to know, learn more.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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