Press Release

Survey shows 37% of all adults want to lose weight

Survey findings announced by the Health Promotion Unit, Department of Health and Children at the launch of its 1999 National Healthy Eating Campaign reveal that 37% of all adults would like to lose weight, that in particular 47% of females would like to lose weight and that there are differences in the perceptions about healthy eating between the urban and rural communities.

The survey of 1,400 adults nationwide, conducted by Lansdowne Market Research in the lead-up to National Healthy Eating Week (May 9th to 15th) shows that a large proportion of adults – 28% – believe their weight is unhealthy and even more – 37% – express a wish to lose weight.

As to the best means of losing weight, a substantial number – 50% – believe a combination of diet and exercise is the best approach. Walking is the most popular form of exercise amongst 44% of adults.

87% of people believe that in order to lose weight it is necessary to eat less high fat foods, while 46% of adults believe switching to low fat foods is beneficial.

Difference in perceptions between urban and rural

The survey shows that while 20% of urban dwellers believe that low fat foods are not as good for you, the figure rises to 30% of the rural community. Yet 84% of rural people agree that in order to lose weight, it is necessary to eat less high fat foods, which is in line with the national average.

Amongst other notable differences between rural/urban perceptions and eating habits are that 22% of rural people believe the best way to lose weight is to “eat less”. This is 50% more than the figure for urban dwellers, the majority (54%) of whom opt for a combination of diet and exercise as their preferred way to lose weight. Further, while 37% of Irish adults claim that they would like to lose weight, 71% of the rural community state they have never tried to do so (Dubliners having the lowest comparable figure at 59%).

Males less weight conscious

22% of adult females have attempted to lose weight previously, which is almost three times the number of males. Women also greatly exceed men in terms of “wanting to lose weight”, with females out-numbering males by 47% compared to 28%. The difference is even more pronounced in respect of married women, 52% of whom express a desire to lose weight.

In relation to men, it is the married male rather than the single who most wishes to lose weight, the comparison being 37% versus 20%.

In order to lose weight, men are more likely to take exercise, whereas women will opt for a combination of diet and exercise and are more likely to change to low fat foods. 20% of females stated that they “never take exercise”.

Doctors are regarded as the best source of advice for weight loss amongst 32% of adults and 41% of the rural community.

National healthy eating campaign

The central objective of the National Healthy Eating Campaign in 1999 is to encourage people to reduce their fat consumption and exercise regularly. The advice from the Health Promotion Unit is that we should think “low fat not diet”. We should focus on making these small changes to everyday eating habits:

  • Look carefully at portion sizes;
  • Switch to low fat foods and low fat or no fat ways of cooking;
  • Eat less high fat foods from the top shelf of the Food Pyramid;
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables;
  • Eat more foods high in fibre and starch;
  • Exercise regularly.

“A combination of low fat healthy eating and daily exercise is the very best and healthiest way to lose weight”, says Ursula O’Dwyer, Consultant Dietitian, Health Promotion Unit, Department of Health and Children. “Short-term solutions like dieting can result in short-term weight loss. However, once the diet stops and old eating habits return weight will be put back on. The key to permanent weight loss is small gradual changes in eating and exercise habits which are enjoyable, simple and easily maintained”, said Ms. O’Dwyer.


The ‘Healthy Food Magazine’ – featuring delicious low fat recipes and no-nonsense advice on weight loss is being published by the Health Promotion Unit. The magazine also contains advice on how to maintain a healthy weight through healthy eating and regular exercise and will be available free of charge from Health Board Offices throughout the year. Leaflets are also available free of charge.