Americans resolve to tighten belts, quit smoking in 2011

Quitting smoking and tightening belts around their waists and on the household budget top the list of Americans' new year's resolutions for 2011.

Of the 44 percent of Americans who plan to make a new year's resolution, 17 percent said they wanted to kick the cigarette habit, 16 percent to lose weight, and 13 percent to spend less money, a poll published this week by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion found.

With the average cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes approaching the six-dollar mark in the United States, quitting smoking could take Americans some way toward achieving their goal of spending less, which rose from seventh place last year in the Marist poll to third place going into 2011.

According to calculations made by MSN Money, a 40-year-old who quits smoking and puts the savings into an independent retirement fund that earns nine percent a year could save nearly a quarter of a million dollars by the time they reach 70.

Losing weight could also help Americans save money, both for themselves and for the economy as a whole.

A report released in September by the Brookings Institution found that medical costs for obese adults were 147 billion dollars more than for healthy-weight adults.

Obesity also costs the United States in terms of lost productivity, absenteeism, disability and premature death. It could also be pushing up transportation costs because more fuel is needed to transport heavier passengers, for example.

Obesity affects not only a staggering one in every three US adults, but also one in five children.

Childhood obesity is draining billions of dollars from the US economy in medical costs and also saps children's well-being and affects their education; overweight kids tend to achieve less in school, according to reports published in 2010.

Four of the 17 new year's resolutions published by the American Academy of Pediatrics for kids aged five and older are related to eating better or being more active.

The battle against childhood obesity gained a useful ally in 2010, when First Lady Michelle Obama launched a high-profile campaign to help American children get fitter instead of fatter.

In December, President Barack Obama signed a law to expand a school lunch program for lower-income children and make the food healthier, which is aimed at bolstering his wife's campaign to curb childhood obesity.

The new law, which pledges 4.5 billion dollars over 10 years to child nutrition programs, will allow the Department of Agriculture to set nutrition guidelines for food sold in schools, including in vending machines.

"We're going to go from soda and candy bars to milk and granola bars," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, hailing the bill as "the best child nutrition bill that I've seen in 20 years in Washington."

While obese kids have the White House on their side, their parents can tap into a smart phone "app" for help in keeping their new year's resolutions.

Apps such as Lose It! and Calorie Counter for the iPhone, and Hungry and Weight Watchers WWDiary for Android phones, promise to help Americans lose weight.

The Quit Smoking! app, developed for the iPhone by an ex-smoker, is one of a bevy that aims to help people stub out their cigarettes once and for all, providing a toolbox of aids to would-be ex-smokers, including hypnosis and a calculator of the cost of smoking.

Of course, the apps are only as useful as their users are honest. Fudging the number of fudge brownies you've eaten when you input data into a weight loss app or the number of cigarettes puffed a day in smoking cessation apps will not help in the quest to stick to a 2011 resolution.

Last year, just six in 10 Americans who made a new year's resolution stuck to it for at least part of the year, according to Marist, which interviewed 1,029 adults in early December for its annual poll about new year's resolutions.

Other resolutions on this year's list included being a better person (10 percent), getting a better job (six percent), or getting politically involved or closer to God, both at one percent.

kdz/mdl/jm

 

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