New Year's Fireworks

It’s common knowledge that New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, but you don’t know the half of it. Studies looking at how people’s renewed commitments to healthy living tend to play out come January have found some disturbing trends.

Take some research done a few years ago at Cornell University. It analyzed food shopping data from before, during and after the holiday season in an attempt to figure out how many people really make good on their vows to eat healthily.

Specifically, it categorized foods as “healthy” and “less-healthy,” then tracked shopping patterns across 207 households, looking at which foods participants tended to pick up at the grocery store.

As you might expect, people bought more food in general and more “less-healthy” food specifically once the holidays kicked into gear. That’s OK, though, we can all treat ourselves a little during the holidays, right?

But then something happened… people got used to eating more less-healthy food. So when the holidays wrapped up, they kept buying elevated levels of less-healthy items.

Now here’s where the New Year’s resolutions come into play: fitting with the idea that people had resolved to eat more healthily in the new year, they ramped up how much healthy food they bought starting the first week of January. And since they were maintaining their higher levels of less-healthy food purchasing from the holidays, they ended up buying more healthy food, more unhealthy food, and therefore more total calories overall.

The authors point out that if you’re serious about your commitment to a year of better eating, there’s a good fix: don’t improve your diet by just spending more on healthy foods while maintaining your consumption of unhealthy foods; make sure you actually substitute healthy foods for unhealthy foods!

Speaking of health-related New Year’s resolutions, a different study looked at another common resolution – quitting smoking – and came to an equally troubling conclusion.

If you’ve ever resolved to quit smoking, you might’ve found that your friends and family were generally supportive of your idea. But here’s someone who’s definitely not supportive of you giving up cigarettes: your friendly neighborhood tobacco company.

In fact, exposing people to smoking cues and discouraging people from giving up cigarettes is one way tobacco ads work. Based on this fact, researchers in Canada hypothesized that tobacco companies would ramp up advertising spending at the beginning of the year in an effort to counter quit-smoking New Year’s resolutions.

Indeed, looking at 10 popular magazines, the researchers found more tobacco ads in January and February than during the rest of the year. Tobacco ads during these months also tended to be more prominently placed: the researchers found that 10 other popular magazines had more back-cover tobacco ads during January and February than during any other months.

Of course, just because tobacco companies pump up ad spending at the beginning of the year and just because people tend to have a hard time curbing unhealthy eating after the holidays doesn’t mean your New Year’s resolutions are destined to fail.

If you take these common pitfalls into account and plan accordingly, you can avoid being a statistic in 2017 and become that rarest kind of person: one who keeps their New Year’s resolutions!

Image: Flickr/*vlad* under CC BY-NC 2.0