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In U.S., More Cite Obesity as Most Urgent Health Problem

In U.S., More Cite Obesity as Most Urgent Health Problem

by Elizabeth Mendes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More Americans than in the past say obesity is the most urgent health problem facing the United States, climbing to a new high of 16%. That compares with 1% in 1999, when Gallup began asking the question on an annual basis.

Most urgent problem facing the U.S. today: obesity trend since 1999

These results are based on Gallup's annual Health and Healthcare survey, conducted Nov. 15-18. As part of that survey, Gallup asks Americans, in an open-ended format, to name the nation's most urgent health problem. The question was first asked in 1987, with obesity receiving mentions of 3% or less prior to the annual updates that started in 1999.

Americans' increasing concerns about obesity mirror the rising rates of obesity in the United States. The percentage of adults who are obese doubled from 1980 to 2008, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And Gallup and Healthways find obesity remains high as of the third quarter of 2012, at 26.1%.

Despite the growing concern in the U.S. about obesity, it still ranks third on the list of most urgent health problems. Americans' top health concern remains access to healthcare, as it has been since 2007, but the 23% who name the issue this year is down slightly from 27% in 2011. The cost of healthcare is a close second, with the 19% naming it as the most urgent health issue -- on par with the past three years.

Cost of and Access to healthcare as most urgent health problem facing U.S. today

Cancer is the fourth most-named health problem in the U.S., with 13% saying it is the nation's most urgent health issue. No other health problem receives more than 2% of mentions.

Most Urgent Health Problem Facing U.S.

Access and cost have been top two concerns since 2003. But, in prior years, a few other health issues made it to the top of the list. For example, bioterrorism was Americans' No. 1 national health concern in 2001, clearly due to heightened fears of terrorism in general at that time. And

AIDS was the top concern each of the six times Gallup asked the question from 1987 through 1999.

Bottom Line

Four in 10 Americans name either healthcare access or cost as the most urgent health problem facing the nation, and another 2% mention "government interference." While down from 55% in 2008, the combined 44% mentioning systemic issues with the healthcare delivery system today surpasses the 35% who mention a problem that is specific to a health condition-- more than two years after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010. The law, though, will not go into full effect until 2014, which may explain the persisting concerns. Whether these lessen will likely hinge on the effectiveness of the new law in increasing access and bringing down costs in the coming years.

An increasingly urgent issue for Americans is obesity, with more people than ever worried about this problem. Obesity is a costly and potentially deadly health problem for the United States and one that has been worsening dramatically over the past three decades. Unless the problem is curbed -- either through public policies, greater focus by the medical world, or something else -- it is likely this issue will continue to make its way to the top of Americans' list of the most urgent health problems in the country.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks well-being in the U.S., U.K., and Germany and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 15-18, 2012, with a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Gallup surveyed 515 men and 500 women. For results based on men, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. For results based on women, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cellphone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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