Why Americans Now Prefer Exercise to Dieting

Americans have spoken, and they’d rather have their cake and then burn it off. A new survey by Brodeur Partners Health and Wellness found that the majority of Americans (57 percent) frequently exercise while only 46 percent eat healthy, based on 542 adult respondents. Twenty-four percent of individuals surveyed said they exercise daily, while only 9 percent eat healthy on a daily basis.


Although both diet and physical activity are important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, scientists suggest diet is more important than exercise in combating obesity. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans are obese.

“The good news is a lot of Americans are getting active,” says Brodeur Partners CEO Andrea Coville, author of Relevance: The Power to Change Minds and Behavior and Stay Ahead of the Competition. “The bad news is that our appetite for healthy foods – one of the best ways to sustain a healthy weight – appears weaker. The disparity could be an issue of willpower, marketing, education, food availability or a combination. Whatever the case, this insight is a potentially valuable one for organizations devoted to health care, wellness, nutrition and fitness.”

No Pain, No Gain

A paltry 6 percent of surveyors agreed the most important reason they exercise is “enjoyment of the experience.” Other popular reasons were general health/well-being (49 percent), to improve one’s appearance (21 percent), and longevity (13 percent).

Millennials Are More Active

Millennials (ages 18-34) outnumbered older generations (61 percent) when it comes to exercise compared to 56 percent of Generation Xers (age 35-54) and 51 percent of baby boomers (55-plus) who say they exercise daily.

Millennials Are More Health Conscious

Fifty-one percent of millennials said they mostly eat healthy foods compared to 40 percent of GenX and 44 percent of boomers.

Appearance is the Driving Factor

Though “improving my appearance” is pretty much a secondary motivation for diet and exercise, millennials proved to be more image-conscious than other age groups, citing it as the most important reason for fitness. The results were the same for exercise and healthy eating, with 28 percent of millennials referring to appearance as their most important reason vs. 17 percent for Gen Xers and 5 percent for baby boomers.

“We’re clearly better exercisers than eaters, which raises the question of whether our society is marketing healthy eating effectively,” says Jerry Johnson, Brodeur Partners executive vice president of planning, who led the research. “We’re constantly told to eat our fruits and vegetables as a way to live longer and avoid disease. But longevity isn’t what motivates people who eat well to eat well. Rather, it is a desire to physically feel and look better today.”


Whatever the reasoning is, younger generations are more likely to lead a healthy lifestyle – and that’s a good thing. It’s clear that Americans do not want to sacrifice pleasurable fare for dietary restrictions, instead, choosing to burn off the calories through physical activity. With instagram feeds, movies, books, and social media promoting a “live each day to the fullest” outlook, it’s no wonder people would rather go hiking rather than diet because FOMO. 


The study was conducted June 3-5 and was based on online questionnaires with 542 adult Americans taken from Toluna’s national QuickSurvey panel. Survey results were weighted based on U.S. Census data to represent the exact demographic profile of gender, age, and region of the American population.


Would you rather eat bacon, maple donuts and exercise, or go on Paleo and watch Netflix?




Zara Zhi
Zara Zhi
Zara is a freelance writer and filmmaker who has worked for numerous magazines and news sites. When not coming up with puns or writing screenplays, she enjoys having blind children read to her and donating plasma TVs. Follow her on Twitter: @zarazhi